Sun, sand, drizzle and videotape

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The Independent Travel
Sun, sand, drizzle and videotape

If you watched The Real Holiday Show on Channel 4 on Wednesday, you too may have applauded the arrival of a TV travel programme that shows real people enjoying - and often failing to enjoy - a normal holiday, with all the downpours and disasters that you and I experience en vacances.

At last there was something for us to identify with: the punctures that punctuated Wanda and Richard Hurley's fly-drive trip to Guadeloupe, and the moment that their holiday turned into a fly-walk trip when they discovered their car had been stolen; and the drizzle that threatened to cast a cloud over Mandy Smith's holiday in Great Yarmouth. We have all been there, done that, and have the snapshots, scars and legal proceedings to prove it.

Up with caffs ...

Identify the place described thus: "Like Reading, only further away." The answer is Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, according to Peter Fleming's travel book Brazilian Adventure; simple, memorable and completely misleading, but since he wrote it in 1934 his imaginative description can be forgiven.

"Handsome, friendly and cosmopolitan, Melbourne is arguably Australia's greatest city." That's my description of the home town of the guidebook publisher Lonely Planet. But if I wanted to sell books, it seems, I would be more likely to cause a stir by calling it "A sprawl of shabby suburbs cursed with a dismal climate".

Rough Guides did it last year, getting publicity for the Rough Guide to England by slagging off Cheltenham and Herne Bay. Now Lonely Planet is gaining valuable plugs for Britain: a Travel Survival Kit by deriding Buckingham Palace and Margate. It has worked a treat: readers of everything from the Oban Star to this column are aware that a new guide to Britain is bound for our bookshelves.

Lonely Planet does us a favour by making us consider how visitors perceive Britain, and why the UK's proportion of the rapidly expanding world tourism industry is actually shrinking. (One easily identifiable reason was the chaos at Heathrow airport underground station last weekend, when new arrivals found themselves plunged into a mle worse than a Sao Paulo rush hour; the wrong kind of Sunday, no doubt.)

Travel writing relies upon opinion, otherwise we might as well make do with tourist brochures. In my opinion, amusement arcades and greasy-spoon cafs are jolly good things, particularly at seaside resorts. But the authors of Britain: a Travel Survival Kit, in the context of Great Yarmouth, call them "tacky trimmings". This seems to risk two things: that visitors will miss out on a place that seems (judging from The Real Holiday Show) to be a cheery resort in the best English tradition; and that the authors will be accused of cultural condescension.

New town riposte

On the subject of picking soft targets for cheap jokes, we are not above criticism. A reader from West Sussex writes: "Why does the Independent keep disparaging Crawley? Your television critic recently implied that `Live from Crawley' was an oxymoron. He obviously has never sampled the jazz or Asian events at the Hawth Theatre, nor tried to park his car on a Saturday when Crawley Town are playing at home.

"And now the less antiquated shopfronts of Ghent are reproached by your travel reporter for having `more than a hint of Crawley New Town' about them. Does Ghent have its own international airport (Gatwick), as we do, or host the World Marble Championship? I think not."

Beyond revealing that Lonely Planet does not deem Crawley worthy of even a mention, I shall point out only that the complaint is from Mrs L Calder of Crawley, and say "Sorry, Mum".

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