Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Paul Morley describes Liverpool as ‘…An island set in a sea of dreams and nightmares that’s forever taking shape in the imagination, more a mysterious place jutting out into time between the practical, stabilising pull of history and the sweeping, shuffling force of myth’ (in Living, Mersey Minis Volume Two). My journey needs to include a mile or so between Central Station and the Pier Head, so that I’m ready to make an early start for the Wirral on some future Saturday. Perhaps this will be a chance to know the ‘mysterious place’ a little better. It’s hard to plan a way through the streets that might do justice to the multiple-world metropolis alluded to by writers like Morley and Russell, dreamed by Jung as ‘the Pool of Life’. I feel as if soaring through the streets on Pegasus, or spending a faerie-time century following tunnels and culverts beneath the streets to read the secret inscriptions of the City’s builders, would still be a somewhat superficial approach.

So I turn to maps – and find them both essential and inadequate. I have plenty – A-Z maps, Ordnance Survey maps, an 1841 map (reminding me that the view from my rear window is of a hill called ‘Devil’s Wall’), tourist maps, University maps, maps enumerating special items of interest such as pubs with nice beer, ghosts and stories. I could take a rucksack filled with maps if I wished, and no doubt buy several more on the way. However ‘The Map is Not the Territory’, as Count Alfred Korzybski pointed out – even the experiment in cartographic exactitude recounted by Borges was only a partial success:

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

(I cannot resist pointing out that the laminated versions available today are great at resisting ‘the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters’.) Linear and sensible as they are, I doubt that maps, or for that matter histories or guidebooks, will ever serve me up Liverpool as a rational package. In some ways, it might be best just to walk and trust, crafting my own fugitive map as I go (and probably arriving back home having missed the Docks altogether.)

Having said that, I’m tempted to use David Cottrell’s ‘The Little Book of Liver Birds‘ as an aide to some provisional routeplanning, and a necessary prompt to do something other than hike from A to B; a prompt to look up and pay attention. The book comprises photographs and descriptions of 100 Liver Birds, which exist in many forms spread across the city, ‘a gazetteer of secret sentinels’. Maybe invoking the ‘authentic Liverpudlian chimera, a Scouse griffin borne from unbridled imagination …a creature of protean forms and composite pieces’ as my guide will enable me to find some kind of meaningful way through this ‘Pool of life’. Worth taking, not a rucksack filled with complete maps, but one partial one, as much mythography as geography.

After all, as poet Jean Sprackland indicates (in a poem titled after Korzybski’s phrase, in her great collection Tilt), maps are precious as well as unreliable:

The pirates would swarm aboard
slashing throats and seizing the maps.
Without maps, all the black pepper, all the slaves,
might as well be thrown into the sea.

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Thinking about other ‘intentional’ journeys I’ve done in the past…

In 1981 I tried to do the Shepherd Neame Passport. This was a challenge to visit a number of the brewery’s pubs during the year, with prizes based on the number achieved. One had to buy a drink and get the passport stamped. As I recall, the lowest-level prize was a tie (wide and synthetic), and the top one a crystal decanter celebrating that year’s Royal Wedding. Each pub’s stamp was also a chess piece, and the passport was a card like a chessboard. Completing a card involved completing a board with the pieces in the correct places, which made it quite difficult – the odds of getting that last bishop or whatever lengthened as the boards were completed.

My MO was to arrive at a town (mostly in Kent) and try and hit all the Sheps pubs in one session, having constructed a route, some little constellation of points on a map. Or else I would get to a number of villages  in one trip. I would have a half of Master Brew (a hoppy bitter) in each, with speedwalking and bus journeys between each. As a skinny but robust 20-year-old, this would leave me pleasantly tipsy (rather than deranged or catatonic, the kind of results I could expect were I to  repeat the process (especially as Shepherd Neame have a lot more pubs now)).

I never got enough Passports to win even the bottom prize. I was still relentlessly chasing a last piece in the cold December, when a landlord in St Leonards offered to give me one of the awful ties, which he was using as a lead for his dog. (“I thought I’d seen the last of you passport Comanches”…) At that moment I decided that the Passports themselves, covered with colourful stamps that combined an illustration of the pub name and a chess piece, every one a memory (now blurred and smudged), would be a better reliquary than the tie…

The Passport schemes have since been discontinued, viewed now as an encouragement to drink-driving and binge drinking.

On those journeys, my maps were like heat-seeking missiles programmed to find a particular sort of alehouses. I would bypass or rush past historic cathedrals,  attractive viewpoints, dismal shopping precincts, oast houses, cows, non-Sheps pubs (including better ones) in search of the objectives – an example of how the maps we choose work by filtering out all kinds of stuff, good and bad, to give us a workable system.

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