Over the past two or three years the arrival of guide books to our own country has become a matter of huge national importance. Never mind trivial issues such as constitutional reform or European monetary union. It is guide books such as these that pose the real threat to our nationhood.
Two years ago, the publication of the first edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Britain became a big media event, after the Sunday Times revealed in advance its shocking secrets. These included the unbelievable allegations that Oxford Street was tatty and that the tours of Buckingham Palace were a rip-off.
If you feel a ticklish sensation in the back of your throat at the mention of these disgusting allegations, you had better not let your children anywhere near a bookshop in the near future.
This is because, frankly, the latest guide is little short of an Australian- led plot to besmirch our honour and undermine the entire British nation.
Up and down the land, local town councillors are expressing rightful outrage about the latest guide. I call upon all honest book-burners to prepare their pyres in Coventry, Tintagel and Skegness, not to mention the whole of Wales.
"Guidebook turns up its nose at smelly Britons," thundered the Times last Thursday, staunchly digging out a nasty little slur to the effect that some British people don't enjoy taking a shower. "Guide warns tourists of grim and smelly Britain," said the Guardian; "Guide paints ugly picture of dirty British" agreed the Telegraph.
The reporters concerned did not make it clear whether they regarded this as a state secret or a piece of gratuitous abuse. But I don't care. What worries me is Lonely Planet's defence of its actions, namely that the number of foreign tourists visiting Britain rose by 17 per cent last year, partly thanks to the book. I mean, if an extra two million people came to Britain just to read these foul accusations about us, who wants the tourism revenue? If, next year, the world's tourists come here to snigger about our bathing habits, how can we possibly expect to assert ourselves on the world stage again?
The fact that most of the book is actually very positive about Britain as a tourist resort won't get them off the hook. The comment about Wales being "breathtakingly beautiful" is a sop, thrown in to divert attention from the bit about it being "rather like England's unloved backyard". It won't fool me, though.
Of course, we always knew that the French stank of garlic and that most foreign countries were filthy and squalid. But that's different. When guide books point out other country's defects they are merely providing an objective account.
Glancing through Lonely Planet's other guides, I have come across various examples of this. The second city of Turkmenistan, Mary, is introduced as having "all the appeal of a cockroach in custard". The small town of Benxi in northeastern China is described as "as scene straight from hell", while Ji'nan, a provincial capital, is "about as interesting as watching paint dry".
Presumably town councillors in Turkmenistan and China are not up in arms about Lonely Planet's verdict but this is because they know the fault is theirs.
If anyone suggests that Britain is anything other than pristine and perfect then all I can say is that they need a bit of schooling in good old British honesty.Reuse content