Prehistoric Times and the Men of the Channel Islands – Joseph Sinel

On a whim I decided that this would be a good book to read, purely for the joys of random knowledge,  and the title told me exactly what I would be learning about.

Just from the cover alone I was already conjuring up vast tracts of time, movements of people and water, as well as all the associated bits of bone, tools and burn marks on rocks.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The reader is treated to a short preface where Sinel   romantises over epochs and the long journey taken by both humans and landscape.  He does this in a pleasingly poetic fashion by tracing the history of a  humble tree.

Being written in the early part of the 20th century a few terms are explained for the lay person, these terms I believe will be generally understood, or at least familiar to the modern reader.  Clarifications are all well and good if the rest of the text is up to it, and Sinel’s writing is clear and always interesting, he is both knowledgeable and enthuisastic about his subjects and it makes the book a joy to read.

Our journey goes all the way back to the land bridge,  the subsequent flooding and retreating of waters, a look at the wildlife and plants over time, a breakdown of classifications of different eras and sub eras of ages, and the occupations of the islands. Continue reading “Prehistoric Times and the Men of the Channel Islands – Joseph Sinel”

The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

Whisked away from his comfortable, uncomfortable life in his hobbit-hole in Bag End by Gandalf the wizard and a company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.  Although quite reluctant to take part in this quest, Bilbo surprises even himself by his resourcefulness and his skill as a burglar!

By now, I am assuming that The Hobbit is well known to pretty much everyone, so I won’t go too in-depth into the book. After the terrible film adaptations, it was always going to be a bit of time before coming back to this story. Now, with the memory of the stretched-out trilogy dulled enough to appreciate the prose again, the road well-travelled, was once again traversed.

The tale is rich in detail and full of adventure. Middle Earth is full of song – interestingly most are Dwarfish – and feels ancient, it’s impressive for a world to be established so quickly in the reader’s mind.  As the journey continues on through the seasons, and months are counted off, it feels appreciatively real, and the characters’ weariness becomes a lot more believable.  For a short book, it really does a stand-up job of an exhausting, if pleasurable trek.

The best part for this reader were the tantalising hints at things happening in distant locations, those were stories I wanted to hear, as well.  The world felt vast and lived in, and this is enhanced with the addition of maps.   I’ve always hankered for those stories Tolkien never wrote about, the ones suggested by places mentioned on his maps.  This sense of mystery always keeps the world pleasingly incomplete and open to my imagination’s wondering. Continue reading “The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien”

The King’s Fifth – Scott O’Dell

n266096This week is Cartography week, a series of posts loosely linked together, a bit like I was, to that gang who stole that the cornerstone of modern society, which I don’t want to talk about….

‘Upon it no mark showed, no river, no mountain, no city – only the single word UNKNOWN.’

It is the 15th of December in the year of our Lord’s birth 2013, your journey begins with this review and continues onto New Spain the setting of this high adventure, so please venture yourself to gather quills, compasses and star charts and have them at the ready…

It begins in a cell in a fortress situated on the East coast of Mexico, the drawing of a map and the tracing of a story, a story of vast distances and also of life.

Does it not interest you to know what lies there? What glittering cities of gold and treasure?’

Treasure maps, you have to love ’em and as History will attest, greedy Europeans were right at home brutalising other nations in order to gain this infamous metal.  Just like real history though, the lengths gone to for the hunt and the distressing situations the treasure seekers get into are utterly fascinating and create timeless stories.

The author has made this a book for all ages, down to a simple narrative that is as compelling, as for adults as it is for the younger reader, it helps to have a central character who is only 15 as well in that respect. Just like treasure island, King Solomon’s Mines et al, the exploration is immediately evocative of the time period,  that pushing into the emptiness of the map, a sense of country as yet unspoiled by mass human inhabitants, the need to know to seek new minerals, push frontiers and above all to be dramatic and ignore the plight of the indigenous people.

33 Continue reading “The King’s Fifth – Scott O’Dell”

Here Be Wales (and other countries)

This week is Cartography week, a series of posts loosely linked together, a bit like I was, to that gang who stole that herd of ducks, which I don’t want to talk about….

For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps – Christopher Columbus.


Old maps are great.  I like them for the simple reason that back in olden times, accuracy was always edged to the side a little in favour of the current religious or political beliefs, which is understandable as those map makers would have wanted patronage, not to mention wanting to avoid a visit by the inquisition.  It’s part of their charm these days and each one shows the richness of our heritage.

Reading one of these old topographical charts really is reading these days.  It’s an insight into the time of its conception and who was the most powerful around, in short it’s a propaganda fest, focusing on the frivolous bits that are often at first glance overlooked or dismissed as mere frippery.  Those symbols and drawings were not only there to fill up the map but in a good amount of cases also told their own stories. Continue reading “Here Be Wales (and other countries)”

Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet – Nicholas Crane

536213This week is Cartography week, a series of posts loosely linked together, a bit like I was, to that gang who stole all those plastic bananas, which I don’t want to talk about….

On a map riddled with riddles, it was the omissions that were most instructive

Life is hard, it’s a proven fact.  hard lives sometimes create exceptional people, Gerardus Mercator is just one such example.

Living through plagues, famines, insurrections and a brush with the Inquisition, Mercator’s life had its fair share of seismic changes

Humans never learn, it is frightening to know that the education system is still as blinkered now as it was in the 1500’s.  Ideas have changed but …some things have not.

Mercator chose to do his own learning at home and journeyed where his interests took him and that is the way it should be.

So anyway to the book…

Make no mistake this book is much more than a potted biography of a beardy cartographer, there is a ton of overview concerning the circumstances he found himself living through. We’re talking of the prodigious religious and scientific collisions, not to mention seismic inter-christian theological clashings of the (known) world changing variety.  Mixed in and layered over with the geopolitical machinations of leaders and the delicate balances of power in a volatile mish-mash of kingdoms and provinces.

This book has maps, which may sound stupid, but as a lot of the places focussed on, are perhaps not the most recognisable, i.e places in Belgium.  There is a lot of name checking and a scholarly feel to this work which does have a tiny touch of the epics about it. Continue reading “Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet – Nicholas Crane”

Map of a Nation – Rachel Hewitt

51DkRn87e7LLast week lethargy set in, hence not many posts or appearances at your notable blogs, I blame it mostly on easy access to the accursed TV programme Ancient Aliens.  It offers no actual proof, merely speculations that are sometimes hilarious and always just plain wrong.

Having wasted upwards of many evenings watching this mess, I decided to read something to cleanse the pallet, Map of a Nation sadly and somewhat surprisingly only added to my lethargy.

I had been excited about this book for what seems like an age, there is something enticing about a the origin of a subject that you hadn’t previously paid much attention too.

To start with the title isn’t really accurate, it is more of a look at Cartography in general and a celebration of the Ordnance Survey map.  Not that this is a problem as the subject matter is very comprehensive anyway.

Adapted from a PhD thesis, the book is somewhat understandably heavy on facts which I always like, but the enjoyment I got from the book is tempered by the dryness of it.  I did find myself at certain points obsessively counting the pages I had to read because it made me feel better to know that I had actually made some more progress into its pages.

For a book so detailed, I didn’t really get a true sense of how maps were made, but i did feel more enlightened about the subject of cartography on the whole for having read the book.  The most fascinating part for this reader though, was the portraits of the people who made these maps and the efforts they went too. Continue reading “Map of a Nation – Rachel Hewitt”

%d bloggers like this: