REVIEW: ‘Countries that don’t exist’ – Nick Middleton at Theatre by the Lake

by Ken Powell

Love of a good book: E2D’s Ken with author Nick Middleton at the Theatre by the Lake

Love of a good book: E2D’s Ken with author Nick Middleton at the Theatre by the Lake

If you are reading this and come from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, then I have some shocking news: Your country doesn’t exist.

At least, according to an Oxford geography don anyway; and then only ‘sort of’.

Welcome to strange and vague world of ‘countries that don’t’ exist.

TV presenter and Royal Geographical Society Fellow, Nick Middleton introduced a full house at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake to the strange world we live in which is the topic of his new book: An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist.

It would have been easy to expect a dry and disinterested talk on an obscure and insignificant subject – but nothing was further from the truth.

In fact, Nick Middleton turned out to be witty with an uncanny eye for finding the facts that fascinate yet still managed to give a rounded understanding of each of the countries to a spell-bound audience.

Many a geography teacher and lecturer could learn from this man.

He explained that the whole idea of ‘countries’ ‘nations’ and ‘states’ is so vague that there is no one agreed definition of any of these terms nor of how many countries exist today.

A popular classification is that a country must be recognised by the United Nations but then we find each part of the UK doesn’t exist – only the United Kingdom as a whole has a seat at the UN. As such, England could have gone into his book.

Nick Middleton explained he had enough non-recognised countries to fill several volumes and decided to leave out those such as British ones because they are otherwise well-established.

Instead, the fifty countries detailed in his book range from surprisingly large and important – like Somaliland with a population of 3.5 million trying to establish independence from a ravaged and chaotic Somalia – to the bizarre and unlikely such as the Isle of Man and the one-man North Sea island of Forvik.

My favourite is the Australian people of Murrawarri who gave our Queen four weeks to explain why she had the right to be their monarch.

She didn’t respond and so they declared independence in 2013.