I took it down from the shelf the other day. It is a battered old school book - the only one that I've kept - entitled "Everyman's Encyclopaedia Edinburgh World Atlas". The plate inside states that it was presented to me in 1959 "for outstanding work in English". My primary-school teachers thought that I would be a writer, but having written nothing of note in the intervening 50+ years, perhaps it is time to reward their belief in me.
I chose the book myself from Sweetens Book shop in Blackpool, long defunct I suspect. Perhaps the choice of an atlas told even then of a child with curiosity about the world and a desire to see more of it. Certainly, I have always been restless - driven to see more and do more, wanting the sea, landscapes, big horizons and challenges.
The book has travelled many miles with me, and its pages have taken me on even longer journeys. It was first published at a time when much of the world bore the red traces of Empire, but changes were in the wind and the wind blew hard. It re-arranged the world order, blew new countries into Europe and reshaped borders. The question left in the wake of the wind is "is all change good? - are say, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya et al inherently better, or just different following their progress to independence? If the old order was so bad, then why are almost one-third of the world's population members of the Commonwealth of Nations - and all but two of the member countries being former parts of the British Empire?
I have no idea. I have never lived in those countries nor known the joy and excitement that independence must have brought to them, at the time.
I am curious, perhaps about my own ignorance, as to why there are so many new countries, fragments from some of the nations in my old atlas, that I could not point my finger to now on an unlabelled map and I wonder how and why, say Malta and Israel, became part of the great European song-fest.
The old definition of a diplomat was "a gentleman sent abroad to lie for his country" and I think that statement, amended to "a politician is someone who stays at home to lie for his party" can explain a lot of what goes wrong in the world, for it is certain that all politicians, of all parties and in all countries make their decisions based on their politics, not on any altruistic desire for a better world. Look at the Eurozone crisis. Are the politicians of "old" Europe doing what is best for Greece, Spain, Portugal etc, or are they appeasing their own electorates?
Perhaps a new wind will blow? I can feel my own personal breeze whispering to me and, Insha'Ahlla, the old atlas will come with me on another adventure next year.