An End of An Affair | Mark Goodwin

Since the age of ten I’ve had an intimate relationship with Ordnance Survey 1: 25 000 maps. Recently that relationship, one of desire and trust rooted in imaginative and perceived landscapes, has been put under considerable strain. I suppose ‘desire’ and ‘trust’ were never going to make good bedfellows in the first place, and I now know that I was being fooled, or perhaps it was even I who was doing the fooling.

As a young map-reader I fell in love; fell into imagined landscapes. And I trusted that what was being represented on paper was what I was walking on and amongst. Over the years, getting to know Ordrey better, I’ve come to realise (or is that imagine?) that like any identity, she (or he?) was far more complex and secretive than I had first assumed. But, there was consistency: Ordrey’s surface (in places pretty and delicate and in others incisive and masculine) always displayed layered fields of depth on one plane utilising constant symbols. You knew where you were with Ordrey, or at least the Ordrey I used to know.

Before I go on to divulge my grievance, to set down my complaint utilising alphabetic symbolism, before I finally crystallise my loss, I hope the reader, the wanderer, will indulge my reminiscing just one more time.

The connection between poetry and maps is almost obvious, because it is ‘natural’ to metaphorical minds. There has been much written and spoken about this link to the ‘almost obvious’, to the ‘hidden unhidden’. For example, the French-Welsh postmodern poet-philosopher Gene Llaudribard has written extensively on the subject in The Kitten A Cat Copied (Le Chaton un Cat copiés, Llanberris, 1969); perhaps her most famous, and possibly over-quoted epigram goes thus: Simulation n’est pas différente de la simulation; c’est exactement la même chose comme quelque chose de différent. (Simulation is no different to simulation; it is exactly the same as anything different.) Poems and maps are the same things and are as different to each other as the differences they represent. Ordrey’s version of Snowden is Snowden (o yes it is!) despite actually being the (a) Snowden that is only as high as the thickness of the paper Ordnance Survey choose to print upon (plus the thickness of the ink!).

But I digress, as it so easy to do when pouring [sic] over a map (rain has to be taken account of in British uplands) – one can be one minute planning a walk in mountainous country, paying close attention to timing and height gained, to measuring bearings to walk along should the weather become inclement, and then suddenly in the next minute, without one even realising it (knowing it, perceiving it?), one is pondering the imagined presence of an old quarry one has never visited before, but has suddenly noticed as a pretty frill of craggy black ink. So, I will cease my digression, I will return to my promised reminiscence, to one of the good times Ordrey and I shared, that we created together, before things (possibly real things) turned sour.

Mountainous country changes rapidly, depending on the season or the weather. Paths can be washed away, or they can be shrouded in mist or darkness. So, how beautiful to enter a realm of special presence with Ordrey – one of pacing along bearings whilst noting one’s walking speed according to Naismith, whilst determining aspects of slopes, and all whilst not caring that one could not see where one was going, due to fog or darkness or even both. There was never any groping with Ordrey, everything was done through skilful grace. Just like that time in my early twenties, descending from Fairfield, in the English Lake District, one inclement April night:

Do you remember, Ordrey, how you held my hand all that dark, windy wet descent? And do you remember what reassured me the most? Yes, it was the ground, the very ground you imagined on paper and I felt beneath my feet. Each step. And yes, you know how stable a foundation the ground is, how deep it goes below all of us. And Ordrey, what is it that builds such deep foundation? Yes, Ordrey, yes – it is bedrock! And you remember how we both loved the outcrops, the crags, the architecture of rock exposed to the sky, the bones of a world poking through its skin … Ordrey, it was always so thick and blackly printed upon your skin, the crags would stand out in an instant of gazing upon you, they would not hide. They would not hide!

And so to my complaint. When I first met Ordnance Survey 1:25 000 maps (back in the 20th Century) the rock features were clearly printed in solid black ink, but since around 2009/2010 these features have been faded. Crags are now faintly represented through dot-matrix grey-scale. I am at a loss.

Mark Goodwin

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