Friday, 25 April 2008

From now on...

...I am entitled to free travel on London’s public transport.

I would rather pay.

I am not a happy bunny at all today.

Addendum: After I acquired my Freedom Pass today, it occurred to me that since I didn’t have to pay for my bus/tube rides any longer it might not be right for me to complain about the sorry state of London’s public transport. However, I believe it is my duty to grumble about things that affect us all, so I will carry on slapping on behalf of younger travellers who still have to pay outrageous fares and endure unconscionable delays every day.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Scandal in a slightly bigger pond

In his forthcoming book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics and Professional Hedonism, Thomas Kohnstamm, a Lonely Planet author, reveals he didn’t actually travel to some of the countries he wrote guidebooks to. As CNN reported, ‘He plagiarized or made up portions of the popular travel guidebooks and dealt drugs to supplement poor pay.’ He used information supplied by friends who lived in those countries and some he found on the Net. He also accepted free travel, which is against Lonely Planet’s policy.

I have firsthand knowledge of how little travel writers and updaters are paid. I can confirm he wasn’t being greedy.*

His employers panicked and urgently double-checked all his books and didn’t find any inaccuracies.

Lonely Planet isn’t the only travel-guide publisher that panicked after Thomas Kohnstamm’s revelation. They all did. They all reviewed the way their writers and updaters operate, in the hope of being able to say that they worked in a totally truthful way. However, since none of them pays well enough, none of them could issue such a statement. They all cut corners.

When told by an editor (not a million miles away from where I’m sitting) , ‘And you think we double-check the facts of the update at editorial stage? We would only check if a fact looks contradictory or suspicious,’ one boss queried, ‘Why do we proofread, then? And what do copy-editors do?’

This is the editor’s answer.

‘What copy-editors do:

- edit the text while looking constantly at the map to ensure that the text is structured correctly using four or five levels of heading, and that the map matches the text exactly.

- check that any changes made by the updater in one chapter are transferred to other places where they might be relevant such as the architecture chapter, colour section or maps.

- check that the updater has done their job properly, followed the brief and not missed anything out.

- compare the text with competition guides to see what elements are missing, focused on by others or covered unsatisfactorily in the guide.

- edit the text, especially new text, for grammatical and spelling errors and then edit it also to make it read well and flow. Then edit again to length if the book is over or under.

- edit the history, art and architecture sections to make academic information clear to a lay reader. Check that all artistic movements, architects and artists mentioned in the rest of the book are covered generally in an explicatory way here so that the chapter serves as an introduction. Check then that unfamiliar terms in this chapter and the rest of the book are explained in the Glossary of Terms at the back of the book.

- edit the Food and Drink chapter so that all typical types of food and drink mentioned in the guide are explained.

- look out for anomalous facts such as phone numbers that look as if they have a digit missing or websites where the name of a hotel is spelt differently from the name in the text, and check such facts again.

- apply house style to all the practical information such as addresses and opening hours, which must be the same throughout the book and the series otherwise the guide will be unusable.

- study practical sections intelligently to see if they apply to the text they belong to. Rework such sections or request more information e.g. if a getting there section leaves out how to get to a major place or a bus is not mentioned but happens to be mentioned in the running text.

- ensure that listings sections are at the end of text they actually belong to, and that all villages and towns mentioned in the listings boxes are in the same order that they appear in the descriptive text. Ensure that listings sections follow the same order of information throughout the book.

- in [name of imprint] guides, sort out the top five highlights for each chapter and mark them on maps and in the text.

- edit the travel chapter and compare with the travel chapters of other guides to ensure consistency of material and that everything is covered; recheck any discrepancies.

- in [name of imprint]’s case, decide which kind of box to apply to stories and background information.

- brief the author on writing their colour sections and the kinds of themes that would work with the images available or that suit the book.

- edit the colour section and do picture research if necessary, or brief the photographer if not.

- check that foreign languages are set correctly especially those needing special fonts such as Greek, Russian, Turkish, Swedish, Icelandic, Latvian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech. Keep an eye out for adjectives that don't look as if they agree with their nouns and plural verbs with singular nouns in the basic European languages Italian, French and Spanish. Check with a native speaker if in doubt.

- ensure that all scale bars on maps look correct.

- dealing with prices and putting them into ranges.

- questioning whether there is enough information to be genuinely helpful at every point.

- making sure the hotel listings don't read all the same or use the word 'pleasant' or other meaningless adjectives.

- looking out for consistency in foreign proper names that may have English equivalents (Seville/Sevilla, or famous people, or the chosen spelling of Velázquez).

- having to know your Renaissance from your Reconquista, your apse from your apsidum, your quattrocento from your medieval – not in depth, but just enough to spot errors.

- cross-referencing the maps with the text, e.g. in church plans or Roman site plans with keys or for listings in the few books where hotels and restaurants have numbers with blobs on the map and then the updater changes three and every single number has to change in three places but remain correct or it's worse than useless.

- having to do all the cross-references for the text, of which there are around 100 per book, plus all those in the colour section.

- editing the index to see whether it makes logical sense and has the right things in it.

As one does *one* copy-edit (at around 70 pages – 35,000 words – per day) one has to do all this in one go alongside the spelling and grammar, which is why the latter has to come absolutely naturally.

What copy-editors don't do:
Recheck all the facts provided by the author and updater, doubling up on work the company has already paid someone else to do.

What proofreaders do:
Proofread. While doing all the above, the copy-editor will have made typos and errors, not lined up practical information correctly, missed essential bold and italics and will have missed spelling and punctuation errors because they have been trying to do all the above in a matter of a few weeks.’

Slapping bosses who haven’t got a clue what their employees actually do day to day. Especially those who drive around in expensive cars. They don’t live on the same planet as us – lonely or not.

* I know of an editor who went on a two-week trip to Holland once to help an author finish their book quickly: she planned it all out and worked out she had to visit five towns a day. She parked her car, got out, went to the tourist office, picked up leaflets, possibly went to one museum or anything that was brand new, looked around and made a few notes on atmosphere, and then an hour and half later got in her car and went to the next place. She wrote it all up in her hotel room each night. She stopped for ten minutes in small villages. She was paid £1,000 for that trip, and she spent £890 on travel and accommodation and food. That means she earned £7.86 per day.

Battle in a small pond

In the red corner, we have the Emperor of Scent and, in the blue one, the Professeur de Parfums.

Two big fish. Both with big, fat books.

Who’s gonna win?

The Emperor with the smiling consort or the lonely Professeur?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Who are you?

I have kept a diary for over 30 years. However, I don’t examine my life (sorry, Socrates), I just record it. I don’t want to cringe when I read what I wrote later.

Which is what I have just done – read it, not cringed. Well, only a couple of years (1974-75), but several thousand words nevertheless.

Gwendolyn Fairfax was right*, but what bothers me is that there are several people mentioned in those pages that I have completely and utterly forgotten. I have no idea who they were. Only their first names are mentioned (at the time it was obvious to me who they were) and now I cannot conjure up the faces that go with those names. I seem to have been quite friendly with them, but now they are nothing but shadows

We meet many people in the course of our lives; we part with them and, in some cases, we don’t give them another thought, but when their existence has been recorded we should remember them.

Slapping myself for my bad memory.

* ‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’ The Importance of Being Earnest

Addendum: of course, there are also those people who should be mentioned in my diary and who aren’t – for some reason. That’s even worse. Probably. Sigmund, where are you? (He’s never there when you need him.)

Sunday, 6 April 2008

‘Nuff said – the sequel

Last week, I wrote: If you think God moves in a mysterious way, you haven’t dealt with Ticketmaster.

I owe you an explanation for that cryptic pronouncement:

You know I love Leonard Cohen (Yes, you do! You’ve been reading my blog for a while so you are aware of that fact). Well, he’s embarking on a world tour in a minute (please keep your fingers crossed he doesn’t give up the ghost because of it; the poor man is 73 this year; I am, er, xx years younger and I know how I feel when I go out just for a couple of hours; I can’t imagine singing my heart out every night and travelling from city to city for an entire year)... where’s the beginning of my sentence... ah, yes, and he is coming to London.


Yeah, right! He’s going to perform at the O2 Arena (aka the stupid Dome). I ask you! In Nice, he’s going to stand (or sit down maybe, poor darling) in the middle of a beautiful Roman amphitheatre, surrounded by scented trees, on a soft, warm, quiet summer night (the crickets will presumably have shut up by then). In London, he will be surrounded by 20,000 people, a good number of whom will be hanging on for dear life on tiers as high and sheer as any cliffs.

The tour was announced in January, I think, but I wasn’t aware of it. On Friday 14 March, I noticed a small, mysterious ad in the Evening Standard that seemed to indicate that something was in the offing – a new album, OMG, a tour maybe? So I logged on to a wonderful forum full of lovely Leonard fans (his music attracts nice people) and discovered that tickets for the London concert (on 17 July) could now be booked on the O2 website (they had, in fact, gone on sale that very morning).

So, like thousands of others, I logged on, went through all the Ticketmaster hoops to secure two seats (the best available at that point), and sighed with relief when I got the email confirmation.

Only later did I notice the blah blah saying:

PLEASE NOTE Seats located on Level 4 (Upper Tier, Upper Bowl) are not recommended for those who have a fear of heights.

I have problems standing on a stool to replace a light bulb. I started getting nightmares about it. What if I couldn’t actually climb up to my seat on the night; what if, once seated, I couldn’t bear to look down at the stage (a million miles away); what if I couldn’t leave my seat at all at the end (I have been known to freeze at the top of a ladder, when retrieving a book in a library)? I started panicking. And then I read on the forum that Ticketmaster deliberately kept seats aside and released them bit by bit later.

Indeed, three days on, better seats came up for sale, and I immediately grabbed two. So now I won’t be hanging from the ceiling, but I will need powerful binoculars to even catch a glimpse of that lovely, lived-in face, because it’s going to feel like he’s in Greenwich and I’m still in Shepherds Bush, the seats are so far away from the stage.

And then, a few days later, Ticketmaster released even better seats, for the same price. This time, I abstained because I can’t really fork out that much money all in one go, without knowing whether I can get rid of my extra tickets first*. And, at the moment, I only have virtual tickets because Ticketmaster are holding everyone’s tickets hostage. They ask people not to contact them if they haven’t received them. They warn they might not send them until five days before the event. Like I’m going to wait until then to raise a stink.

Slap slap slap!

*I will let you know when I actually get my tickets so you can fight over them here. Won’t that be fun? I will charge what those tickets cost me (i.e. quite a nice sum plus some ridiculous booking fee – why? – plus even more ridiculous postage), plus a year’s worth of psychotherapy sessions for the stress I suffered in the course of booking those tickets and waiting for them to arrive, please god.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Laugh of the Day

Advertisement for Ocado (the home delivery service - selling mostly Waitrose goods):

This Pesach we'll beat Elijah to your door.

Update: All you puzzled, non-Jewish readers, I will now put you out of your misery.

Pesach is the Hebrew name for Passover, which is, as Wikipedia says, ‘the Jewish festival commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery’. A meal kicks off the festivities, during which the story of the Flight from Egypt is recounted. Wine is drunk at some point and a glass is poured for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to herald the Messiah at this time. The door is opened for him too, for a little while.

Don’t you find that Ocado ad funny and clever now?