Dava Sobell, author of that great book Longitude told me about her maps and gender theory.
Ask a man the way and he’ll give maplike instructions: Left at the traffic lights, carry on for mile, then take a right and immediately another right till you come to a fork and take the righthand one… And so on.
Ask a woman, and she’ll say something like: Go as far as the letterbox, then turn where there’s a chemist shop and walk on for about ten minutes till you come to a school and turn left there…
You get the picture. Women tend to notice street furniture more than men. What do you think?
Anyway, if you’re lost there’s always the last resort: a map which is the equivalent of RTFM. Simon Garfield’s great book explores all aspects of maps and mapmaking.
In 1824, the British decided to map Ireland largely with the aim of measuring boundaries for tax purposes and from this we get townlands. (My former home in Donegal was in the townland of Corkerbeg.)
The man who did great work on this was Thomas Drummond who devised a light that could be seen in murky, misty weather such as you sometimes get in Donegal and other coastal areas. What he used was a small pellet of lime ( calcium oxide) which could be seen up to 100 miles away. Lots more of interest in Garfield’s book. And while you’re up, check out Brian Friel’s play Translations which is about the Ordinance Surveying of Ireland at that time.
These thoughts came to me yesterday when I was doing some work on my current project – the old butter roads of Ireland.
I have a marvellous map dated 1686 which shows, with drawings, the cattle being milked, the butter being churned and then being taken in wooden firkens to Cork for export.
All this looking for maps and notes led to this, part of my collection of everyday maps:
Of course, if you ever get lost, you can always ask. In most countries now it’s kilometres but in Ireland watch out for the Irish mile. What’s an Irish mile, you’ll ask. It’s a measure of distance ( not used now, you’ll be glad to hear ) that is 1.27 whereas an English or statute mile is 1, All to do with the difference between a rod and a perch – but let’s not go there. Or, if we do, let’s work it out as the crow flies.