Thursday 18 July 2019

Travel, then and now

Yesterday I was asked for a contribution to a newspaper feature about travel scams and, happily, had nothing to offer - apart from the story behind this photo, which pre-dates by decades the very word 'scam'. I wrote about it a couple of years ago here so I won't bore you with the details again, regular 😃 reader.

Looking it up though in the 1977 travel diary I wrote religiously and amazingly copiously at the time, I got sucked into reading a large section of it and, amongst many other amazements that include how innocent I was, how emotional and open - try scaling those walls today, reader, and brace yourself for the boiling oil - it was the sheer old-fashionedness of travel then that astonishes me now.

Yes, yes, the letter thing is an obvious one - such a slow and antiquated way to keep in touch (also, so time-consuming, writing those things out by hand). But, given the abysmal state of the postal service today, it was actually remarkably efficient. I kept anal account of all my letters written and received - using POSTE RESTANTE, people! - and noted that one of them, from NZ to Singapore, took only two days to arrive. Phenomenal. Plus the Poste Restante people would forward mail to the next address when you moved on.

As a counter-balance, though, telephone calls had to be booked at the PO or International Telephone Exchange, and cost money as soon as someone picked up the (landline) receiver at the other end, even if it wasn't the person you wanted to speak to. And when I changed my travel plans and sent a telegram ahead to my aunt in England, twenty words (I would be more succinct today) cost me over $20! That is Singapore dollars, though - US$8.50. But still plenty for me then, when I could buy myself dinner for S$2.60.
There's a lot in the diary about money. How expensive things were (and also how cheap), how I was always running out of cash - it wasn't always easy to find someone to cash a traveller's cheque even then - and lots of dithering about presents. Choosing, buying, wrapping and posting them took so much time and money, totally out of proportion I'm sure to the pleasure they gave to the bemused recipients back home. That's a weakness I haven't succumbed to for a long time - when I first started travel writing, I soon trained even my kids not to expect pressies when I came back, for exactly those reasons. I know. Harsh.

I had downtime in Perth, when I thought I'd try to catch up on news from home. I had to go to the State Research Library and request the latest newspaper they had, at the desk - and was given a copy of the Auckland Herald that was ten days old.

There are a couple of sad comments about seeing things I would have liked to photograph, but had run out of film; and a wondering comment about buying a couple of 36-exposure films from an in-town duty free store, and being given them in a sealed plastic bag to take away with me. That was the opposite of sending a postcard at the GPO in Jakarta, where I watched the stamp stuck on with glue at the counter and then was directed to carry it through into the cavernous back region to witness it being franked, so it wouldn't be literally ripped off - before being thrown into a huge and overflowing sack. I still have no idea if that one arrived.

Buses, trains and planes were polluted by smokers - even with pipes! - and you had to pay to access headphones to watch the movie that was shown on a big screen at the front of the cabin. On the other hand, when I bought a 20cm long sharp bronze paper knife during a stop-over in Bangkok, I was able to carry it back onto the plane...

But one thing hasn't changed. I still lose track of the days.

Monday 15 July 2019

Getting the hump about cricket

In a novel turn for me, who lives a life of enviably self-regulated ease with a complete lack of work-related stress, I had to eschew my usual leisurely morning routine in order to meet an urgent deadline. I know! So unreasonable.
It was my own fault, having spotted a hook for a story, and pitching it to one of my editors. (Does that jargon make me sound like a proper journalist? Ha! Fooled you.) She then took me up on it and wanted it straight away, since the subject was actually news, of sorts: that the Hump Ridge Track in Fiordland has been added to the golden list of New Zealand's Great Walks. 
Regular 😃 readers will recall that I did this walk a few years ago and was lucky enough to strike lovely weather - by no means a given, in Fiordland, where annual rainfall is literally measured in metres. It was a really enjoyable tramp, starting with a helicopter ride across the bay and including two lodges, wine, venison, hot-smoked salmon, a hand-knitted hot-water bottle cover, 20km of much-appreciated boardwalk, lots of birds, spectacular views and some wonderfully picturesque sculpted tors reflected in still tarns. As well as lots of walking, scrambling, climbing, puffing and sweating, natch. It fully deserves its new status.
Sadly, though, it pipped the also-gorgeous Queen Charlotte Track to the title. Regular etc will remember that I did the first day of that tramp not so long ago, and was most taken with it - though the chance and, in NZ highly unusual, meeting with a couple of deer made it especially memorable. (Today's connection: the only other time I've met deer was the young white tail I surprised on Stewart Island on a ramble around the bays - where I went on the very same trip that I did Hump Ridge.)
Driven by the deadline, I worked solidly and filed the story, plus its images - always the most time-consuming bit of the whole process, by the way, since I've never yet had the self-discipline to sort my photos on return from a trip, so that they're selected, edited and captioned all ready to go when I need them. Yay, all done. And then the editor emails back: er, sorry, no room on the homepage today, something to do with cricket...* Sigh.
* Cricket World Cup, dear reader - strictly speaking, Men's Cricket World Cup, since the women's one has been and gone already. NZ v ENG at Lords, two draws and a subsequent debatable (and inevitably much debated) ruling giving it to England. The mere fact that I - me! - am writing these words at all tells you everything you need to know about the super-saturation this event has received here, despite taking place in the middle of the night.

UPDATE: Finally!

Sunday 14 July 2019

Blatantly, and - ideally - chillingly, entitled

I like to think that my stories are pretty easy reading, and I feel particularly comfortable about being able to write an opening that sucks the reader in, but - titles? Mine just suck, full stop. I find it really hard to write something apt and catchy, frequently succumbing to the nudge, nudge, wink, wink of alliteration, and they rarely make it past the subbing process. Usually the editor, much more practised at such things than I am, comes up with something heaps catchier. But not today, for my Viking Sun story in the Sunday Star-Times.

Sun - eclipse: yes, I see that of course.  But even though It's obvious and pedestrian and absolutely the sort of thing that I might eventually have come up with myself, all inspiration sapped by producing the story itself (my only possible excuse), I would never have written it - because it's just not true. One full day on a mid-level ship sailing between Auckland and Wellington? Yes, it was nice, and they did everything properly, and I didn't write anything I wouldn't stand by, but... "hard to eclipse"? Yeah, nah.

Sorry, Viking, but I've sailed with Silversea, to Alaska, to Montreal, to North Cape,  to Antarctica! All those destinations are what I call properly hard to eclipse - so hard, in the case of Antarctica, that it has actually kind of sapped my enthusiasm for any subsequent cruising. You can keep your Mediterranean, your Pacific Islands, even your Caribbean. The only thing that would really er, float my boat these days is deep Arctic - Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, northern Canada. And I would want to do it on a smaller ship even than Viking Sun's 980 passengers. Half that is the maximum, thanks, preferably even less. Not fussed about fancy restaurants, big shows, pillow menus, all that - just a bit higher standard of living than I have at home will do nicely, plus cold and spectacular scenery, please. 

And *cough* for free, natch. Because I've just sold my SEVENTH Silversea Antarctica story to a fifth publication/website, bringing the total readership/coverage up to around 2.5 million. I think that's a decent return, don't you, Silversea/Seabourn/Windstar/National Geographic?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...