Category Archives: Writing

The Modern Messiah

The stranger walked into the small village, arms spread wide.

“I come to share a gift which will enrich your life,” she beamed.

“Is it books so we can better educate our children?” Asked one villager.

“No,” smiled the stranger.

“Then it must be medicine so we can heal our sick?” Another villager suggested.

“No, it’s not medicine.”

“Aha,” a third villager exclaimed. “You have brought us tools so we can build better houses?”

“It’s none of those,” laughed the stranger as she revealed a sleek, rectangular object. “This is a smartphone. I’m going to show you all how to use Instagram.”

This, depressingly, is a true story, an example used at a travel conference to illustrate how some travel bloggers have supposedly impacted positively on the places they’ve visited.

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The magic trick hidden in full sight on travel blogs

“Are you watching closely? Every magic trick consists of three parts, or acts. The first part is called “the pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary. A deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it, to see that it is indeed real,unaltered, normal. But, of course, it probably isn’t.”

The opening lines to Christopher Nolan’s magical movie The Prestige are deliciously clever on a number of levels. They describe to you exactly what they’re doing as they’re setting you up for what’s to come.

Whenever I see a disclaimer on a travel blog it often reminds me of The Prestige. But then, like Michael Caine’s character, I know the business. I know the pledge (the disclaimer) exists for readers to examine to see that all is normal. This is someone you can trust.

But unlike with a magician, where members of the audience are there to be deliberately mislead, to be tricked, in some cases the writer doesn’t want the reader to know they’re victims of an illusion.

“Disclaimer – I visited Barundella as a guest of the tourist board but, as always dear reader, the words, thoughts and opinions are mine.”

A classic pledge. All is above board.

To be honest, for a while I fell into this apparently transparency-loving trend; although, it was a trend I didn’t like as I couldn’t see the difference, when invited somewhere by a tourist board, between writing for my blog (disclaimer recommended) or being commissioned to write for print (no disclaimer). But, hey, everyone was doing it (in some countries there’s no choice, it’s the law). So like a good little grass muncher, I followed suit whenever appropriate… until the world of travel blogging changed and bloggers started being paid to ‘visit’ places.

That was a game changer which transferred bloggers from being on the same bus as travel writers onto one which had huge ‘visit Barundella, it’s blooming brilliant’ slogans written in big, bright letters on its side. At that point they became marketers, promoting destinations for money; no different from ad agencies. I have absolutely no problem with that, it’s a shrewd and, hopefully, lucrative move on the part of those who do it. But it’s a very different game from travel writing.

Advertising agencies don’t criticise the product they’ve been paid to promote. This factor takes a sledgehammer to that ‘disclaimer’ which, whilst it might not lie, doesn’t reveal the whole picture. The complete truth is being concealed by dexterous sleight of hand designed for your inspection, to let you see the contents of the blog are indeed real, unaltered, normal.

This is the pledge. You, the reader, are being distracted.

If it really was meant to be sincere and completely transparent, the disclaimer should say “I was paid by the Barundella tourist board to visit the country and then promote it. But as always dear reader, the words, thoughts and opinions are mine.”

But who’s going to believe that?

The Evolution of a Travel Blogger

2012 :– “Guidebooks are bad, they’re useless… out of date as soon as they’re published. Don’t bother with them. Travel blogs are immediate, dynamic, with real up to date information. Guidebooks are doomed. They’ll soon be obsolete.”

2014:- “I’m an innovator in the world of travel blogging, I’ve just published an ebook full of essential information on what to do, where to eat, where to stay called ‘How to Live Like a Local in Rangoon’.”

2016: – “Don’t bother writing top 10 lists or mini guides to destinations on your travel blog, the Bluff Guide does it so much better so there’s no point. By the way, did I mention I’m now a contributor to the Bluff Guide series of travel guidebooks – YAY for me.”

And at some dusty crossroads in the middle of nowhere a man whose face is obscured by shadow but whose gleaming white smile is dazzling puts another soul into a little muslin bag hanging from his belt.

Why do you write?

“Why do you write?”

I ask the question aloud. I just don’t understand.

“What is your motivation?”

The text is cut and pasted from elsewhere, the photographs belong to somebody else. None of it is theirs, so where is the satisfaction?

I understand why copywriters ‘borrow’ information/experiences from others. They’re earning from doing so, for themselves and the companies they write for. And I have the utmost respect for copywriters who are able to sit at a desk, research places and create something which comes across as insightful, original and real.

There aren’t many of those about though.

But bloggers? People writing for themselves and their ‘followers’, that I don’t understand. How can they feel good about palming off something that isn’t theirs?

There is another group of writers I don’t quite understand. Those who use their own words but don’t make any attempt to say anything new. I’m not suggesting I come up with something original every time I put pen to paper. I wish. But I strive to have a different voice, to say something that belongs to me and me alone, to observe from a slightly different angle. It is never, ever good enough.

So when I start to read a travel blog about a location which could have been cut and pasted straight from Wikipedia, I want to ask the author ‘what was your purpose in writing this? You must know it could equally well have been written by a copywriter sitting in a room a thousand miles away.’

They are writing as an obligation. Possibly to maintain a sham of a façade they have created in order to… well, travel in the cases I’m specifically thinking about.

But there is no joy, curiosity, emotion of any kind in what they write. It is not a calling, not an addiction where if you’re prevented for any length of time from banging away at the keyboard trying to create something, you get twitchy.

Their work has me staring, bemused, at a screen of bland nothingness wondering time and time again.

Why do you write?

Not White Enough to be Scottish

“Whit dae ye mean am no white enough tae be Scottish?”

“Yer no white enough to play a Scottish freedom fighter, simple as.”

“But ah am Scottish, ah’ve been Scottish since ah wis born.”

“Well, yer no peelie-wally enough. That’s aw there is tae it.”

“It’s probably the tan, ah’ve just had a fortnight in Lanzarote. Ah’ll be white as a bottle of milk again before ye know it.”

The casting director wavered.

“Show us yer arse.”

“Whit?”

“Did ye sunbathe in the scud?”

“Naw.”

“Then show us yer arse.”

Ah, I could see where he was going. I flashed a chunk of cheek.

“Naw, yer still no white enough, there’s a touch of olive tone there. Wis yer maw Italian?”

“Naw, but ma granpa wis fae Sicily; came over as a POW during the war.”

“Well, whitever the reason, yer no white enough to be in this movie, ye’ll stand oot like a sore thumb.”

“This isnae fair. It’s awright for Idris Elba tae be James Bond but ah cannae play a Scot in ‘Freedom – the Willie Wallace Story’ when ah am one.”

“James Bond is fictional, it disnae matter who plays him.”

“Yer wrong there, he might be fictional, but he’s got a back story. His da wis Scottish and his maw wis fae Switzerland.”

“So?”

“They’re no exactly known for their thriving black populations. The chances of a wee Idris popping oot isnae very likely. If ye ignore the back story, yer no showing any respect for the source material. It’s just no right if yer a lover of literature. What’s more, if there are any missions in Eastern Europe they cannea really send Idris undercover can they? He wudna get very far before he wis spotted.”

“Ye never know, they made Sean Connery Japanese in You Only Live Twice. Trying tae pass Idris off as a Russian isnae any different.”

“Aye, good point… but he couldnae go on a mission tae America.”

“And why’s that?”

“He’d never make it oot of JFK before the American polis gunned him doon.”

“Right, ah’ve had enough of yer nonsense. Get oot,” the casting director pointed towards the door.

There was nothing more tae be said.

Now I know how that Zoe Saldana feels.