Travel PR is a travel PR firm, surprisingly. For our more serious side, visit www.travelpr.co.uk.
Example: “For them, an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history.” (Narrator, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).
Don’t you hate it when that happens – when your idyllic moment gets rudely interrupted by a historic psychopath? Like, so annoying. Chainsaw-toting baddies aren’t exactly what Theocritus had in mind, either, when he wrote his Idylls, a series of short poems depicting humble pastoral life. That’s the original and technical meaning of ‘idyllic’, indeed – peacefully mundane and rural, like a sedate cricket match on the olde village green with custard creams, or a sleepy gîte in the deepest Dordogne corner. In travel, however, the meaning seems to have been generally widened, and now stretches to all things vaguely nice and soothing. Seas, spas and sunloungers; they can all be idyllic. And so too can Barbados’ Mango Bay, according to this website. You might be snidely thinking that a Caribbean resort with 42-inch plasma TVs, water-skiing and “children’s services” could hardly be “charmingly simple and rustic” (Dictionary.com). Not to mention its pedalos, tennis and nightly shows. Or the permanent wi-fi access. Or the hobie-cat sailing. Pah. How petty and wrong you are…
“THE SIZE OF WALES”
Example: “This vast delta is the size of Wales”
Incredible, really, how many countries / places / parks / swimming pools / dust storms are the size of Wales, along with Wales itself, which is exactly the size of Wales. Or indeed places half the size of Wales, or double it, or seven times it minus three-fifths. Other than perhaps Belgium, no other country or principality (let’s not go there – it leads to an argument the size of Greenland) can ever be so regularly used as a unit of geographical scale. Mostly, too, the places that are supposedly the size, or half the size, or 14/16s the size of Wales are places that (they hope!) you wouldn’t think could possibly be so; for them to actually be the size of Wales, say, is absolutely unthinkable, game-changing. Anyway, let’s talk facts: according to some extensive Google research (ie results page 2), places that are almost exactly the size of Wales include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Slovenia, Sierra Leone, Israel, West Virginia, the Falkland Islands, Kruger National Park, Kakadu National Park, an Antarctic basin, a crater on Mars and, of course, Wales itself. Meanwhile, Montenegro, Beirut and Cyprus are half the size of Wales, while Arizona is 14 times bigger and Sicily is a very-specific “one and a quarter times the size” of poor Plaid Cymru. That’s only the tip of the iceberg too, and this particular iceberg’s 36.4 times the size of Texas. In some cases, these comparisons are entirely reasonable: Wales is precisely 20,779km² (as opposed to the far-too-vague ‘two-million hectares’), and El Salvador, for example, is 21,041km² – just over the size of Wales. Israel’s even more Wales-like at 20,770 km². But Sierra Leone is a whopping 71,740km². That’s really not the size of Wales; if anything, it’s the size of Ireland (70,273km²). Statistical nit-picking aside, the real question is this: just why has Wales become such an established arbiter of size? No-one knows. Well, someone must know, but no-one’s telling. All we can think is that it comes down to envy – Wales must be the perfect, optimum size, the size every country wants to be: not too fat, not too thin, a model of contentment. Just like Israel. And El Salvador. But not Sierra Leone.
Example: “A friendly, fabulous hotel with sea views”
Ahh – a sea view. Is there anything better? Not only do you have that famously restorative ‘sea air’, but also perhaps an unrivalled sense of escape: the edge of something, the lure of foreign lands, potential freedom on tap. John Betjeman saw coastlines as an emotional tonic, writing prettily in Sea Breeze that “We need the seaside cure for relief from anxiety and tension / We need it to realise there’s something greater than ourselves / That’s where the cure is, at the sea’s edge.” Less cheerily, while traversing the UK’s shore in The Kingdom By The Sea, travel writer Paul Theroux noticed a succession of elderly folk in cars gazing out to the ocean – “sad captains fixing their attention upon the waves” – and gloomily concluded that, for them, “the sea was a solace. It was (…) the way out of England – and it was the way to the grave. These people were looking in the direction of death.” Hmm. But if a ‘sea-view balcony’ in your Honolulu hotel now suddenly feels somewhat less of a draw, fear not: many ‘sea-view’ properties or rooms aren’t actually as close to the blue as Tony Tourist would initially think. Sometimes a more accurate description would be ‘a sea view if you go to the end of the garden once autumn’s well underway and climb onto the roof of the boiler building and stand on tiptoes’. It’s pretty tough to look in the direction of death in these places; in fact, you risk causing your death by even trying. On other occasions a ‘sea view’ isn’t actually something you’d want (e.g. the Thames Estuary) – imagine a hotel in Aberdeen advocating a sun terrace, and you get the gist. That sort of sea view could drive you to the grave for entirely different reasons.
“GOD’S OWN COUNTRY”
“Kerala is God’s Own Country”
In an email conversation this week, the travel journalist Sarah Barrell told me that the Waterberg Mountains region of South Africa, up by the Botswanan border, was referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’ by its locals. Hang on a minute, I said – isn’t it Kerala that’s God’s own country? Marketing campaigns and handling Real Holidays’ India PR for four years have taught me that. How can a pocket of South Africa also be his country? How many countries can this guy have?!
Quite a few, it turns out. According to Wikipedia, “’God’s Own Country’, often abbreviated to ‘Godzone’ or less often ‘Godzown’, is a phrase that has been used for more than 100 years by New Zealanders to describe their homeland. It has subsequently been adopted by some other countries, notably Australia, but this has declined as the phrase has become increasingly associated with New Zealand”. In addition, Brazil is often cited with the moniker (along with ‘God’s Own Playground’ – every deity needs a leisure area, after all), as is, more improbably, Yorkshire. Armenia and Ulster have also been given the label, although this is for more straightforwardly religious reasons, rather than a boast of physical splendour. Still, it seems that God is quite the land-owner these days.
(The religious argument here is obviously that the entire world is God’s, and thus he owns all countries and can have any he wants. Which is a fair point.)
Either way, it seems that even God’s countries aren’t oblivious to trouble. The First Post India today described an entirely un-deified Kerala: “The moral rot in the state — which brands itself as ‘God’s own country’ — has reached its head. This has been a steady decadence that many conveniently chose to ignore.” Phew – it’s sure not easy, this landlord thing…
“Stop off for a few days in vibrant Portland.”
Can you hear that? That buzzing sound? That’s the vibrant city you’re living in (if you can’t hear it, you’re either deaf or living in the sticks). And gee, there are so many vibrant cities out there, it’s a wonder the world doesn’t snap under the sheer strain of it all. Vibrant Stockholm. Vibrant New York. Vibrant Vienna. Vibrant Wigan. The de-facto travel-writing adjective for describing an urban area, ‘vibrant’ is one of those handy words that means, well, pretty much zip. It attempts to hint at a constant, creative energy; as if intangible local frequencies are silently resonating with brainwaves and industry. So it’s a little new-age, and therefore a lot claptrap. Indeed, in a realistic (pedantic) sense, saying a city is vibrant is like saying a forest is woody; in short, this liveliness rather goes with the urban territory. You might as well say it’s a city with loads of people doing loads of things, but then that doesn’t sound quite so catchy. Indeed, when you think about it, vibrancy actually infers busy-ness, which in term infers traffic jams, long queues for overpriced cultural attractions and some numbnut ‘tourist’ always ruining your photograph. Yet instead the word is uniformly positive, hinting that you’d be a total fool not to want to vibrate along yourself.
Example: “The hotel has stunning views of the sea”
Let’s get grammatical for a second. ‘Stunning’ is perhaps the most over-used adjective in the travel press-release dictionary. The villa? Stunning. How about the sea view? Absolutely stunning. And the master bedroom? Just stunning. The problem is, being stunned isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can mean just being taken aback – like when you see a cat come out of a kennel, or gasp at The Sun’s Page 3 model – but also the condition of being dazed, such as when you walk into a bookcase, or irritate a bouncer. Being taken aback can be good, but being dazed rarely is – if the view or master bedroom really is that good, you don’t want to miss it due to mental fogginess, do you? And if you believe brochures, some breaks sound so consistently stunning that you wonder if the holidaymaker will remember anything at all afterwards. This isn’t just an emotional problem, either – being stunned so often can hardly be good for the old ticker. Aren’t holidays meant to be relaxing?
Example: “The villa borders a beautiful, palm-fringed beach”
These days in travel brochureland, it’s not enough for a beach to have golden sands, clear waters and an absence of tourists. That’s, like, so whatever. No-uh – today’s coolest beaches all come ‘palm-fringed’ as well. To employ a hideous pun, palm fringes are like a trendy haircut that all stylish sandstrips must have; bling harbingers of cove quality that every would-be paradise had better possess. A beach without a palm fringe is like a human without an iPhone – an evolutionary failure. But hang on – what exactly is a palm fringe? We’d guess at a light speckling of palm trees: not enough to totally block out all the foreground, but ample foliage to provide a veneer of seclusion and exclusivity. There are vagaries, though, and the Advertising Standards Authority needs to clamp down on this before palm-fringe exploitation gets out of hand. To wit: how deep can the palms go before a beach is less palm-fringed than palm-hemmed? Or palm-trapped? Palm-imprisoned? What if there are a few other, non-palm trees in said fringe – does that still qualify? How many palms can constitute a fringe – is two enough? Three? Seven? Are coconuts compulsory? Do the palm trees even have to be alive? Phew. It’s a (palm-fringed) jungle out there.
Example: “The terrace offers panoramic views of the countryside.”
What is a panorama, anyway? Wikipedia, which of course never lies, defines it as “any wide-angle view or representation of a physical space”. Gee, thanks for that. The Free Online Dictionary, meanwhile, describes “an unbroken view of an entire surrounding area”. That’s far more like it. We tend to think of panoramas in terms of standing somewhere outside, and being able to see all around with no ugly things - like buildings or humans - in the way. Even though being outside isn’t strictly vital to the definition at all. Some villas actually offer inner panoramas, in fact. I say all this because ‘panoramic views’ are often feted in travel brochures as a lusty quality of a house, hotel and so on. Sometimes the use seems dubious – apparently there are mainland beaches with panoramic views of the sea, and cottage terraces offering a panorama of the surrounding countryside… despite the fact that the cottage itself must be behind the terrace, thus interrupting the view. It’s okay, though, because since no-one really knows what the word means, nor does anyone know what it doesn’t mean. Ultimately, a panorama seems, basically, to constitute a reasonably wide view. Which means Wikipedia was right all along.
Example: “The town is a maze of old churches and cobbled backstreets”
What connects Clovelly, Bourton-on-the-Water, Bonifacio, Fiskardo, Kyrenia, Venice and juat about every other pretty-town fantasy? Cobblestones, that’s what. Read travel brochures and you’ll soon be staggered at just how many cobbled streets there are around the world. It seems that every single idyllic village, old quarter, charming town or sleepy hamlet has some - they are, in fact, the very proof of rustic, quaint bliss, a Michelin star of urban loveliness. Even Jack Kerouac’s Sal Paradise – a man more inclined to bop and hop – adored them, gushing about San Francisco’s North Beach: “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream”. But hold on to your imaginary horses, Jack – are cobblestones really all that? In practice, they’re bloody annoying to walk on, especially if you’ve got high heels that make a rickety racket, and even more irritating to pedal across. Bumpety bump; oh for some tarmac… One Somerset town has even decided they’re so deadly it wants to smooth them over. In the plus column, cobbled streets look pretty enough in an old-fashioned way, and they’re also equally maddening to drive on, therefore going hand-in-hand with the ideal of a car-free utopia. So really they provide a nice cosy illusion – that is, until you trip over on them, and cut your knee open.
Example: “The villa overlooks azure seas”.
No doubt azure refers to a specific pantone, number 2031 or something, but the truth is most PRs and writers just use as a posh way of saying blue. And since we all know the sea is blue, the phrase doesn’t really tell us very much when you think about it. Other popular oceanic pseudonyms for blue are ‘aquamarine’ and ‘turquoise’, which are basically posh ways of saying azure. The rationale behind all these synonyms is, of course, that ‘blue sea’ sounds a bit mundane, whereas ‘azure sea’ feels positively postcardish. Somehow ‘blue sea’ doesn’t seem to guarantee fine climes – one tends to think more of an chilly Atlantic squall somewhere south of Kinsale – whereas intrinsic in the lure of ‘azure seas’ is the implicit guarantee of balminess, sunlight and slumber. That must, at least, be the hope of the caravan-selling Azure Seas business in not-always-sunny Norfolk and Suffolk - and perhaps it’s also what appealed to Derek Jarman, who was so inspired by the idea of these pantone-perfect waters, and indeed by the thought of pursuing pearls within them, that he recorded a piece of typically abstract music about the entire scenario (see left)…