A DOG'S LIFE

COMMENT:

Yes, the world's shrunk. As illustration of this tedious truth, I have just received an email from Canada containing a link to a British comedian addressing an American television audience. (And how the Americans whoop and holler. It's as if God himself has just popped up on set. Where do they get their enthusiasm from? Or how do they fake it? Are they being paid? Is it a requirement of just being American? I know the answers to none of these questions. The world may have shrunk but it remains dense with mystery.)

The comedian's subject was New Zealand and its habit of being omitted from maps of the world, which may on reflection explain all the whooping and hollering. Being Americans, they couldn't find New Zealand on a map. Now, they were learning they wouldn't have to. These were the whoops and hollers of relief.

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New-Zealand-free maps of the world are apparently common. IKEA sells one for $30, which, as the comedian pointed out, is odd because IKEA is about to open its first shop here.

(May I register at this point a little astonishment? I am astonished how people celebrate the arrival of an international retailer in this country. It's as puzzling as American whooping and hollering. What exactly is exciting them? Is it merely the hunger to belong? Or is it a manifestation of capitalism's first and most durable delusion - that the next purchase, the one previously just out of reach, is the one that finally, after all these years, delivers happiness? Again, I don't know. Mystery piles on mystery.)

Anyway, the comedian made a string of jokes about New Zealand being off the map and the audience duly whooped and hollered out of a sense of smug superiority. For they were the citizens of a superpower that no one would ever leave off the map: a country so wise and strong it has withdrawn from an international agreement on climate change; so wise and strong it has allowed its worst enemy to subvert its elections; so wise and strong it has elected to its highest office a psychological cot case, a 72-year-old toddler; so wise and strong it is reverting to a form of authoritarian nationalism.

Having squeezed all he could out of our cartographical absence, the comedian then cracked a few sheep jokes, to the audience's inevitable delight. At which point, and believing I had got all there was to be got from this performance, I went to bed. But instead of reading, I lay and studied the painted polystyrene tiles that form the blank of my bedroom ceiling, like a map of the world without countries. And in that delicious interlude between sleep and wake, that half-land territory where the defences tumble and the ideas rise, it seemed to me that rather than resenting New Zealand's omission from the maps of the world we should insist on it.

Time was when most of the world was off the map. The known ended in blanks and guesswork on which the cartographers wrote the words "Here Be Dragons" to illustrate both their ignorance and their fear. We should reclaim that status. We should slip back off the world. Let us be the home of dragons. Let us be the place of myth.

There would be countless benefits. For example, when some Chinese money-maker felt the urge to come and bottle our water and ship it to places that had dirtied their own and make a fat slug of profit out of the whole transaction we could simply not be there when he came looking and we could keep our water for ourselves.

Or if some American songstress with long legs and a following of a trillion hormone-ruined adolescents decided to pop down here and buy a million acres of high country, we could simply slide down into the ocean and hide. Let her ring the bell. We are not in to the likes of her. We'll keep our mountains, thank you.

More significantly still, as technology advances but the human ape remains unchanged, which makes the coming cataclysms worse than all that have come before, we on these distant islands could step to one side. We'll become the Erewhon of which Samuel Butler wrote, the little society that goes its own way and by doing so critiques all other societies. We'll be the sheep that dares to leave the flock, that thinks for itself, that neither whoops nor hollers nor shops. We could unshrink the world a bit and become its envy.

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