How To Read A Map

Map reading, driveWrite AutomotiveWhen you live in a world where some people see on the internet a viral image of a young Steven Spielberg sitting on the set of the original Jurassic Park movie and actually believe he has just trophy-hunted and slaughtered a fully grown triceratops, everything else just falls into place.

It appears that we have become a species who believe everything we see, or are told, without demur. We are losing the ability to do anything, including thinking for ourselves, without recourse to some device or other. We hold our brain in our hands. Without machines, we are lost. It’s all a bit pathetic.

Take cars. These days we need not concern ourselves with the tedious act of driving well and safely because, increasingly, the machine will do that for us. One less thing to think about and that includes going from A to B. Now, I am not going to sit here like some white-robed mystic maharishi and castigate the rest of you because, if I’m honest, I might be slightly guilty of falling into this trap myself by virtue of a reliance on satellite navigation.

You’ll remember the early days of sat-nav when they weren’t quite as intelligent as they are now? They were far from fool-proof (an essential ingredient) and early users found themselves confounded by dead ends, fast flowing rivers or Polish lorries wedged solidly into small village streets. With time, they have become pretty damn accurate and we have come to rely on them despite the fact we have always had the ability to get around by virtue of a good old-fashioned map.

Example. I undertake a relatively straightforward journey from time to time from my home in darkest Wiltshire to the South Coast. The postcode is speed-dialled into my device, I select it and go without further thought. On the last run it occurred to me that, without the device, I had no real idea how to get there. I was on autopilot; an automaton obeying the dulcet tones of the delicious Serena. Not good.

I used to own maps and there is still, secreted somewhere in my boot like the Dead Sea Scrolls, an ancient but comprehensive book of maps. Sure, things change but this is the tiny and well signposted British Isles, not Outer Mongolia. How hard can it be? This is what you do:

Buy A Map

W H Smiths sell them. Get them online. Rent them from bigger libraries. Ideally use those prepared by The Ordnance Survey – remember the OS? They are still out there, plotting. Get the right map for the job – you only have to buy them once. Maybe a 1:190,000 map for driving. Also buy a simple, inexpensive compass.

Read The Map

Have hours of old-fashioned fun bickering with your spouse about directions before you realise that the map is not orientated correctly. North is at the top, okay, darling? Fair enough?

Understand What Maps Say

That’s latitude and longitude. The coordinates. It isn’t difficult in any way. Five minutes work on the internet. Recognise contours and what they mean. Look out for landmarks (a church on a hill, say) as a way of orientating yourself. Think of it as exploration. Be Bear Grylls for a day. That’s it – now drive. Cautionary Note: I must advise you to remember to stop and park the vehicle when checking your route before some swivel-eyed H&S nut gets on my case. We don’t drive with maps on our laps, right?

It’s all about self reliance; doing things for yourself, thinking things through. Readers with long memories will recall I have previously mentioned a short story by E. M. Forster called ‘The Machine Stops’, first published in 1909. This prophetic tale tells of things to come and what happens when ‘The Machine’ – essentially the internet – comes to a sudden stop and humanity is helpless.

It’s a fast moving world and we have become reliant on technology at the expense of our own wit and wisdom. Make a start at reclaiming your life. Turn off the touchscreen totty and become an explorer. That’s what I’m going to do. I’ve found my compass, I can vaguely remember the science bit, now all I need to do is update my map selection. I’m off now to look up the postcode of my local Smiths.
Geoff Maxted