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When I was living in Yemen during the 1980s, someone gave me a battered old map. Information was scarce then, and accurate maps were extremely hard to come by. So departing expatriates tended to pass on any treasures to new arrivals. As he did so, my benefactor paused. “Be careful,” he said, “You don’t want to get caught with this.”

Maps, you see, can be dangerous. I think of this when I meet Martin Greenaway, a cartographer at Stanfords in London. Martin is sitting by a couple of computer screens behind a treasure trove of maps: tables covered in vast colourful countries, wall racks groaning with continents, drawers stuffed with cities and mountain ranges. Stanfords has been making maps since the mid-1850s, and has operated from this purpose-built site on London’s Long Acre since 1901. Now it is moving on – opening new premises in nearby Mercer Walk on 10 January.

Martin laughs at my Yemen story. “A customer came in and told us how, in the 1970s, he pulled out a 1:50,000 map on a bus and got into trouble with a Spanish secret policeman sitting next to him. Now we sell those same maps to walkers.”

And do many still buy them, I ask. Isn’t the internet killing the paper map?

“GPS and Google have certainly eaten into the market,” he says, “But I think paper is going to make a comeback. You just cannot orientate yourself as well with a handheld device.”

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Vijay Nanda

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