London has been my home for two years. I’ve memorised the street maps, learnt to stay silent on the underground and have extinguished the memory of sunny Australian beaches with lukewarm English ale. Don’t be fooled by the accent; I’m a local, mate.
You can imagine my excitement then when my parents arrived for a visit earlier this week. Stephen and Maria Craddock, don’t mind a trip abroad. In fact my mum is always quick to tell people visiting our suburban house that our renovated kitchen “was – ya know – inspired by that – kind of – New York loft style”.
I was keen to show them my favourite restaurants, bars and afternoon strolls. I started off suggesting a place to eat for the coming Friday. My dad hesitated. “We probably won’t have time on Friday,” he said. “There’s apparently a great Welsh choir that’s performing that night.” I tried for the next day. “Saturday’s no good either,” he replied. “We’re going to this restaurant in Mayfair. My guide book says it’s great.” That second sentence has since become the refrain of their visit.
The word “apparently” has also become more frequent. “Apparently China Town is great. Apparently, East London is pretty trendy. Apparently, Oxford Circus is not a crowded hell-hole that makes you want to throw yourself in front of a double decker. Guidebook, if you’re listening: you’re a moron.
Don’t get me wrong. Most guidebooks are great and I feel my dad has picked up a dud. Although, travellers should never forget the hint in the title: guidebooks are guides. I’m not bitter (brackets: I am very bitter) but I’m of the opinion that faith should always be put in an informed local when possible. To make my point, I scoured to find examples of where guidebooks mislaid their judgement.
Take HarperCollin’s travel book on China, which was published around the time of the Beijing Olympics. Despite having sections on the historical context of the country, there’s not one mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Then there’s The Rough Guide to Cuba, which warns that bloggers who oppose the Castro regime can be “paranoid and bitter”.
But the one that stands out the most is Lonely Planet’s most recent guide to Western Australia, where it describes my home, Bunbury, as “a town that isn’t particularly interesting or attractive and is struggling to remake its image from that of an industrial port into a seaside holiday destination”.
Outrageous. It’s a city not a “town”.