Monthly Archives: April 2019

Beware post-truth travel writing

It’s been four months since the following: I think I’ve calmed down enough to write about it.

 

“Oooooooh, I’ve written about the Shimla toy train!”

So says the full-time writer employed at a very, very well established boutique London travel company serving those who like to experience the world from a 5 star bubble. This is said to me at an above-my-pay-grade Christmas reception where I a tad bewildered: how did life come to this? Momentarily, it was nice to be having a conversation to get away from some of the more snooty guests. Nice to talk India.

“What’s it like?”

I slow-blink and almost drop my glass of fizz.

Almost.

(Personal rule: never waste a free bar. Father would be proud, but would question why I am drinking bubbles, not beer.)

I do manage to continue to smile – slightly cracked now – and maintain frothy conversation – after a momentary hesitation – and in no time at all the event tilts on its axis: we part with smiling seasons greetings. When privacy is guaranteed an out-loud eye roll is indulged upon: you are a professional writing travel pieces on places you’ve never even been!? WTAF?

Then it was Christmas and all was forgotten.

This morning researching a new trip, the above moment came flooding back to mind as a I read a too-good-to-be-true blog post about road-trippin’ The Sunshine State.

In these post-truth times, my propensity to cross check sources has increased. With newspapers, TV, social media my BS filters are default “on.” Whether this merely makes me less productive or saves me from harm is a question for another time. What saddens me is that reading more travelogue/journal entry/blog also requires a security check. Today, the way the piece was written just made me wonder. On this occasion it checked out.

19b

To say it’s not a level playing field for (travel) writing doesn’t really capture it. As a rant, this example does not have legs because it’s, well, inconsequential. It only matters to me because I blog from a “been there” vantage point. Of course it’d be naive to expect an unbiased blog from a travel company. The organisation has an agenda: to sell travel. What bothered me was the casual, firm, personal beliefs of the PR trained travel writer. Namely that it’s okay to write about it having never even been there/done it. (Let’s hope guides to brain surgery/bomb disposal/Brexit are not written in the same vein.)

It’s a PR piece, not a blog.

Some say we are in a post-truth era, or one in which we have reached peak bullshit. The world of public relations is a case in point. One wonders why everyone doesn’t communicate straightforwardly… instead we have advertisements masquerading as blogging, PR copy hacks faking travel writing.

EPILOGUE

Manfully on this occasion, the temptation to name and shame has been overcome as the Christmas encounter taught me a lesson. That said, I just looked up re-read the offending piece. Analysis: It’s a cut’n’paste from a tourist board press-release warmed over with stock photos dashed off before coffee time: click here to buy. Yet it doesn’t betray that the authour has never actually been to India.

Nor does being single and childless prevent them from penning a guide to “planning the perfect family adventure” either apparently.

Beware BS. There’s a lot of it around.

Especially [sigh] in travel writing.

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Bungate: how not to have a private meeting

Imagine a small foodie cafe in a market town. Pared down furnishings, limited choice fresh cooked menu, good coffee.

Imagine sitting in said cafe trying to mind your own business, quietly indulging in morning coffee and reading a paper (when you probably should be working). Then the following – purely fictional – scene unfolds.

[Pay attention, it’s reader participation later on.]

The man next to me is looking at graphs and numbers when a local couple of toffs sit down next to him. Next to if not on top of me. It’s properly cosy. Their volume control slider is clearly broken because they appear to be fixed upon a Public Address decibel level. I’d loosely describe their setting as broadcast.

Immediately it’s apparent they are not happy. They own a local business and numbers guy (NG) has been auditing on their behalf. There are anomalies. The graphs show the truth that their managing/key employee is somehow remiss.

It’s barely a minute in and I am now 100% pretending to read the paper. [A skilled act where one must move ones head across the copy, scan up and down columns, occasionally turn the page and repeat. I am so practiced, I could give lessons at Spook school. Probably.] Transfixed on their every word, their less-than-private meeting unfolds.

Posh him (PHi) is incensed and is going to stomp round there and give their employee what for! A showdown no less! Posh her (PHe) coos “nooo dahling, it’s not going to solve annnnything” (with words that suggest reasonable diplomacy but lack any humanity in their delivery).

NG presses on with his suspicion that the £s claimed/spent and the hours worked/materials consumed are simply not tallying. PHi is “fuming” and – I notice from the corner of my faux news-reading eye – foaming ever-so-slightly from his skinny chinless chops. NG suggests a couple of courses of action and I have to stop myself from verbally/physically nodding in agreement with his apparently unbiased choice of next steps.

PAUSE.

At this stage, dear reader, I am of course wondering a number of things, including “which local business is this?” A little “what would I do?” But mainly I’m quietly outraged that this meeting filled with delicate subject matter is happening in a public setting. We are sat in intimate touching distance yet their voices have that entitled plummy blast that would set off car alarms in the next county. If they possess a dynamic range, they are oblivious to it, to their surroundings, to their fellow diners. They have that irritating way of toffing-up shared space because you don’t matter. You are poor.

Grrr.

Yet, I surprise myself by staying poker faced, surreptitiously attentive, silent in my surveillance, gathering intel’.

RESTART.

PHe intones that key employee may have rumbled them but also that they should’ve this and that when setting the venture up. NG merely shrugs as she makes little sense. I almost ask her on NGs behalf: “Sorry, but are you on drugs?” Luckily I stay silent, turn another page, flick the ‘paper straight and sip my brew (thinking ahh, it’s a recent enterprise then).

We then turn to the subject of buns. The bun calculations are troubling. PHi blusters “why do they need to bake them themselves anyway?” (Ahh, a food business. A recently opened local food business with a certain kind of bunnage. I jolt. I may have eaten there? I may have met the employee in question? Or have I? Steady on The Beers: am I baking my own conspiracy theory here?)

To whit – right on cue – a bread delivery arrives to the cafe. PHe observes for all to hear “it’s the new local bread maaan”. Cafe owner is clearing nearby tables, cottons on and deftly steers kneading guy over hoping to help facilitate a lucrative support-your-local artisan bakery contract.

PAUSE.

At this point, you could – rightly – accuse me of frightful nosiness. There was no mention of names nor hard details given aloud in the meeting next to me. The meeting is somehow public yet non specific. But that’s about to change.

RESTART.

PHi: [Sans polite introduction, piles in announcing] “We own ________________ ___________ & _______ ________ restaurants. Do you make X buns?”

Bread Dude: [Bashfully] “Am trying to cut back actually.”

PHe: “Well that’s no good.” [Turns her back on Bread Dude who shrugs having been left for dead and exits the scene.]

Ooohhh, now I deffo know which business. I also note the time with some alarm. Riveting as this is, things need to get done today. I take my leave from the table, excuse-me-ing around their meeting – we were sat that close – and emerge onto the street.

Once outdoors I begin to consider just how inappropriate and ill considered what I’ve witnessed was. Imagine if your career was being talked about in public in less than flattering terms?

OVER TO YOU.

Using the comments section below, tell me what you would’ve done next (and – if you like – why). Here are some thoughts to start you off:

  • Write a poorly anonymised blog about it.
  • Return to the cafe and take the business owners to task for meeting in public.
  • Walk round to the establishment being discussed and tip-off the employee.
  • Write an anonymous tip-off note and push under the door after hours.
  • Publish a scathing/tell all piece on the town FB Noticeboard.
LESSONS

If nothing else, the above is cautionary tale. When you’re dealing with a sensitive subject, consider your stage/surroundings. And whatever you do, don’t publish online.

Ah.

Whoops.

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