Map addict navigates his way to Galashiels

Mike Parker, Map Addict.
Mike Parker, Map Addict.

Self-confessed map addict Mike Parker is the next up in the winter series of talks run by the Royal Geographical Society of Scotland (RGSS).

The writer and television presenter is giving his talk ‘On the Map: Cartography and National Identity’ at the Heriot-Watt campus in Galashiels on Tuesday night (February 25).

The former stand-up comedian said: “My lecture looks at how our maps define our sense of self, and our sense of belonging and nationhood.

“I shall be looking at maps of Scotland from down the ages, but also of Ireland, England, Wales and even Slovenia and the long-lost kingdom of Pomerania! With the referendum in September, this will be a timely look at how we imagine ourselves in cartographic form, and what that means.

RGSS says: “With the upcoming referendum on independence, and Scotland’s character and position under some scrutiny, now seems a perfect time to discuss issues of national identity.”

Asked about his love of maps, Mike told The Southern: “I’ve loved them since I can remember – I was fascinated by them from the age of five or six.

“To me, a map is the supreme synthesis of form and function, something that is hugely practical and useful, but also amazingly beautiful too. A map is also a snapshot of a moment in time – as my talk will show, every map unerringly demonstrates some of the ideas and priorities of its age, even when it doesn’t mean to.

“By that, I mean that we like to believe that maps are somehow a statement of absolute truth, that they have no agenda or bias. That is far from the truth! After all, every cartographer has to choose what goes on the map, and – perhaps more importantly – what stays off. That exercise of choice is, by definition, a political act.”

He worked in “proper jobs” for two years before becoming a freelancer. He spent a decade of guide books for Rough Guides and Gay Men’s Press as well as his own. Next, he wrote and performed one-man stand-up shows before moving to Wales in 2000 when for seven years he wrote and presented travelogues on ITV Wales.

He is well known for his popular book Map Addict, published in 2010, which spawned the Radio 4 series, On the Map, broadcast the same year.

Parker writes: “This was hugely enjoyable and fascinating to do, and took me all over Scotland, Wales and England in order to interview all manner of map professionals and enthusiasts, including heroes of mine such as Jan Morris and Bill Drummond.”

His most recent book, published just before Christmas, is ‘Mapping the Roads: Building Modern Britain’ (AA Publishing).

Mike told us: “It examines the history of our road network and how it has been mapped. It’s a surprisingly lively story!”

And otherwise concerning upcoming projects, he said: “I’m currently working on some stand-up comedy shows and in researching a book set in the part of rural mid Wales in which I live.”

Tickets are available at the door: £8 for adults, free for students, under-18s and RSGS member and the talk starts at 7.30pm.