The amazing truth about the United States of America

A TEACHER at school once asked us in a geography lesson which was further east, Edinburgh or Liverpool, and those of us who could tell east from west, and knew which side of Britain which city was on, had no hesitation in shooting our hands up and saying that Edinburgh was further east.

I still remember the shock which greeted the teacher's smiling announcement that we were wrong. Edinburgh is to the west of Liverpool. When we didn't believe him we went and looked it up in the atlas, and blow me down, he was perfectly right. Britain leans over quite a lot from right to left, just enough for Edinburgh on the east coast (and a bit inland) to be west of Liverpool. I have never forgotten that fact, and a fat lot of good it has done me.

And last week I garnered another paradox to go along with it. We were having dinner with friends called Tim and Liz, and Tim's brother Richard was over from the States, and suddenly for no reason at all Richard said, "By the way, can you guys tell me which are the most northerly, southerly, easterly and westerly of the American states? That's all. Farthest north, south, east and west."

We sat thinking for a while. In fact, Richard got a bit bored and left the room, during which time we discussed it communally it, or, to put it another way, shared our ignorance. Indeed, Liz went and got an an atlas, but the rest of us sat on it so she couldn't use it. It's at times like this that I wish desperately I knew more about American history and geography. It's not that I wasn't paying attention in school. It's just that no school I went to ever taught us anything about America.

"Furthest south must be California or New Mexico," said my wife.

"Unless it's some part of Louisiana," I offered. "Of course, it would probably have been Puerto Rico if Puerto Rico hadn't voted not to become a state."

We fell silent for a moment in awe and gratitude to any part of the world that refuses to be American.

"Bit like Greenland being the only part of the world to leave the European Union," said my wife. "I admire them for that."

"How could Greenland leave Europe?" said Liz. "It's not in Europe."

"It was part of Denmark then, I think," I said. "But I don't think it is now."

"Maybe it's part of America now!" said my wife. "Maybe Greenland is the most easterly bit of the USA!"

"Can't be," I said. "Canada, perhaps. Not the USA."

Do you have well-informed intellectual conversations like this at your dinners? No? Aren't you jealous?

"What about the most westerly bit?" said Liz. "British Columbia?"

I had a sudden inspiration, based on the idea of Puerto Rico.

"Got it!" I said. "Hawaii!"

As soon as I said it, we knew it must be true. Which other state is way out in the Pacific, west of everywhere else? Well, then.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't the most southerly too," I said. "It's pretty tropical, isn't it? Well, if it's more tropical than California, there you are!"

"Alaska," said Liz with another surge of brain power. "Alaska's got to be the northerly one."

Of course. The bit they stole from Canada. It had to be Alaska. Which left just the easternmost state. We were juggling Rhode Island and Connecticut and Maine in the bliss of sheer ignorance when Richard came back.

"How are you doing?" he said.

"Well, Alaska for north," we said, "and Hawaii for west."

"Good."

"And Hawaii for south, too," I said, gambling.

Richard's eyes widened.

"Very good!" he said. "Hawaii is the most southerly and westerly. But what about the most easterly?"

We tried all the possibles in New England but he wouldn't have any of them.

"Sorry," he said. "The answer is Alaska again."

There was a stunned silence, not unlike the stunned silence which, all those years ago, greeted the news that Liverpool is east of Edinburgh.

"Hold on," I said. "Are you saying that Alaska stretches all the way across the top of Canada and overlaps the eastern states?"

"No," said Richard. "I'm saying that the furthest, `westernmost' tip of Alaska is actually just across the 180th meridian, in the eastern hemisphere. Therefore it isn't very far west - it's actually very far east!"

Of course, I had to look up the atlas before I could believe him - but he's absolutely right. The easternmost point of the United States, at the farthest extremity of the farflung Aleutian archipelago, is a little group of islands called, naturally enough, the Near Islands - at longitude 173E.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine