17 April 2011

Homage to Phyllis Pearsall

What do the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the unrest in Libya, the unrest in Yemen, and the Greek financial crisis have in common? They're just four of the things for which someone has produced a "road map" as a solution.

The first reference I can find in the Guardian to a road map is in 2003, when an article prematurely claimed "the road map is dead". In those days the concept of "road map" was probably an optimistic replacement for the concept of "peace process" - after all, everyone knows that processed peace is less tasty and nutritious than fresh or frozen peace.

In 2005 a Guardian editorial declared that this road map was stalled - a lovely mixed metaphor, which should have warned people off using the phrase.

But this year the damned maps have been turning up all over the place. The world of politics has turned into a branch of Stanfords. In February an "official" said we need a road map of Egypt. In March, "In Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, the opposition presented President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a road map for a smooth transition of power this year" (that was nice of them). This month, April, the Vickers report apparently sets out "a road map for a better banking system in the UK", while the Greek Prime Minister has announced a "road map to recovery".

So many maps, but no-one knows where they're going. You can understand why demagogues love to say they have a road map. It announces a certainty about things: who can argue with a road map? What it actually reveals - like all clichés - is a lack of imagination or creativity. Phyllis Pearsall - who mapped out the original and best road map, London's A to Z, by tramping the streets for 18 hours a day - should haunt and torment the people who spout the cliché. A road map, a good one, a real one, like hers, is so much more than a list of good or unrealistic or self-seeking intentions.


SmokedAddick said...

Cracking stuff as usual Brian.
Love your take on things

Brian said...

Thanks! Always good to get feedback.