It's in the middle somewhere

I think I am right in assuming that every ordinary person has by now quite given up trying to understand about nuclear fission and silicon chips. I, for one, am not particularly worried at being out of touch with computerization or unable to grasp the fundamentals of advanced electronics. I have also given up trying to decide whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for my country, which is Great Britain, to stay in the Common Market. As nine-tenths of the populace are as muddled as I am about it and have to resort to making obscure jokes in bad French, I do not feel too lonely.

What does worry me, however, is my persistent inability to assimilate facts which should, by now, be crystal clear: plain, simple facts that fail, time and again, to register.

It is a source of some pride to me that I am writing for an international newspaper; that these very words will reach, if not be read by, the citizens of dozens of countries. All the more galling, therefore, that I can never remember where half these countries are.

Take Africa, for instance. I was never very good at placing its states when they were called Tanganyika and the Belgian Congo, but since that famous ''wind of change'' blew most of the familiar names off the map, I am even worse. Zambia , Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana are new names for old states: But which? And where are they?

There is no need for Africans to be especially insulted by my ignorance as to their whereabouts, as I am just as bad in the Middle East. I know where Egypt is because I went there in my youth, when I was impressionable; and I remember the sunsets and the sand and the tombs of the kings and that glorious Sphinx. I have also been to Israel, so that I know Jordan is fixed on to it somewhere because if you cross over from one to the other you can't get back. Or couldn't.

But as for Bahrein and Kuwait, and Muscat and Oman - well, I know they are there, full of oil and sheikhs and Cadillacs: but where exactly?

It is futile to direct me to a map. I am frequently studying one; but somehow the information I gather therefrom eternally escapes me. Indeed, as I write this I am trying to prevent my mind from straying over to South America, since I do not believe, even if pressed, I could accurately pinpoint Uruguay. I would say vaguely it was in the middle somewhere: On the other hand that might be Paraguay.

Since I am so depressed about my geography I do not much wish to add to the burden of my grief by delving into the deficiencies of my history. By which I mean I will freely admit that I do not know who the president of Bolivia is, nor , at the moment, can I name the prime minister of New Zealand. Further than this I do not care to go. No. I will think of something else. Like the weather.

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