7 August 2015
Our copy of The Times Atlas is huge, heavy, and out of date. Come to think of it, most atlases must be out of date by the time they are published. It was my Christmas present for BH in 1984 to replace “Ginny’s Rotten Little Atlas”, which was the one I used at school. My Christmas present is now 31 years old and, not surprisingly, has been superseded by events. A few borders and not a few names have changed. However, it’s still pretty reliable.
When BH appears torpid or bored, bring him the atlas and he will have his head in it for the rest of the day. He is a man who has travelled widely, in every continent bar Australasia. By choice, coercion, and of necessity. Now he would gladly never go anywhere again. He keeps his passport up to date, but that’s it.
“How about Rio for the World Cup next year?” say I playfully.
Deathly silence greets this sally. Oh well, I wasn’t really serious. He assumes a faraway distant look, and a faint smile. Then you know he’s more likely to be travelling back in time to that idyllic childhood place rather than to some exotic location — Copacabana perhaps, or Angkor Wat. Those of us lucky enough to have an idyllic childhood place in our heads will sympathise.
I am humming “Where do you go to my lovely”, a great song by Peter Sarstedt. He affects not to notice.
Today a friend has set off for the Altai Mountains, weighed down by luggage of nineteenth-century oddity: ancient guidebook, compass, probably a folding camp-stool, Kendal Mint Cake, aspirin. Even BH has never been that far East, Novosirbirsk was his furthermost point. Most of us ordinary folk will never get further than to searching for Altai online or in our atlases. It’s way beyond the Urals, beyond the Azov Sea where China, Mongolia, and Russia meet in Kazakhstan.
All the family have gone sun-searching. Anyone who has been here will tell you we’ve had an apology of a summer.
Even Prince Charles is in Transylvania.