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LP London guide, 7th edition, 2010: a few shortcomings
on 17 June 2011
I find it hard to know how seriously I should take Lonely Planet now but ultimately I think it prefers enthusiasm over accuracy and well-researched, valuable travel information. LP isn't careful or serious enough in this book and it isn't well-edited. LP waffles but even generalised waffle isn't always correct. This is LP on cricket: "Although the game was invented here, the English team has mostly struggled on the international stage" (P320). Gosh. That's not an easy statement to justify. LP waffles on about "the thwack of leather on willow" and "venerable Lord's" when it should be concentrating on providing solid information. It gets into an incoherent mess when it tries to explain ticketing for the different types of cricket. We're told the price of match tickets without being told that the prices mentioned (now much increased) refer only to Test matches (P320-321). LP wants to tell us that Test match tickets "can be difficult to get" (you have to interpret the meaning) and fails. LP could have just told us directly the truth that tickets for Test matches against Australia are harder to get than those against any other Test-playing nation. There's plenty of confused waffle in need of rewriting elsewhere e.g. the whole section on Private Eye magazine (P54). LP gets carried away in its section on the English language (P55) - it's simply weird. It's hard to beat "London is big on the web" (P19) for a pointless statement.
The arts and culture are areas that LP rarely covers well. They're topics which LP feels need to be included in its guides - but quickly with a few platitudes and generalisations and a hope that no one will spot or care about the errors. We're told Nicholas Hytner "slashed ticket prices" (P311) at the National Theatre. No, he didn't. The entry on the Royal Opera House (P311) is awful. LP gets its facts wrong and gives a misleading impression about the place. We're told "midweek matinees are usually much cheaper than evening performances". Fact: the ROH never does midweek matinees for the public (it sometimes does matinees on Bank Holiday Mondays - invariably cheaper than evening performances - and puts on very occasional and incredibly cheap midweek matinees for school groups). We're told "half-price standby tickets are available if the performance isn't selling very well" but we're not told that these are not available to the general public. LP could have mentioned student standbys which, if available, are incredibly cheap. The ROH has more than one theatre but this is not mentioned. LP contradicts itself. On the one hand we're told the ROH is trying to ward off its "stuffy, exclusive image"; on the other we're told it "is attracting a younger, wealthy audience". So the ROH is not exclusive but is exclusive. Fact: it is not full of rich people. The best cheap places may sell out months in advance to Friends but it remains far more accessible than, for example, the most popular and very expensive premiership football grounds. The ROH is a great theatre: one of the best 5 in the world for opera and dance. I'm not convinced that LP researchers have ever been to a performance there, and they don't seem to have read the brochures either. They shouldn't have written about it. Remember, we're expected to take the information provided by LP on trust and pay for it.
The Festivals and Events section is poor. We're promised a list of `some' of LP's `very favourites' (P16). This is not credible: it's an excuse not to do the work and provide the detail. It's far too short to be taken seriously - the Rough Guide to London provides much better coverage even if it too is not comprehensive. It's really just a lazy list of a few random events about which LP somehow manages to say almost nothing. It isn't good enough to give the addresses of a couple of websites for better information. What are we paying for? If you just want a list, Google is free. The entry for the Notting Hill Carnival is just very short and bland. We're told to `beware of street crime' (P17). Well, that goes for street life in general everywhere. The Latin American Carnaval del Pueblo is just ignored. One of over a hundred events. We're told that the countdown to midnight at New Year on Trafalgar Square is "London's biggest bash". It isn't. It's a pointless crush of people hanging around for hours and is well worth avoiding. The New Year's Day parade is far more fun but doesn't rate as an LP favourite. LP prefers Pancake Day and someone you can barely see hundreds of yards away switching on Christmas lights. The content in the entry for Open House (P17) is worthless. This is an excellent but very complicated event and no effort is made to give a pointer or two on how a visitor might approach it. We're told to go to the boxed text on P208 for more information but we just get a repeat of what we've just been told. Have LP's researchers been? Opening hours vary enormously and can be very limited. There's nothing about the queuing involved. Many buildings require advance booking and have very few places available. (Some private clubs use Open House to tout for business. Fair enough.) You do need to plan and the Open House book (not mentioned) is indispensable. Why can't LP simply say something helpful, true and informative like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is wonderful and unmissable? The queue, if there is one, is not impossible and moves quickly. If there's no detail, what is the value of the book?
There are an awful lot of bars, shops, cafes and restaurants in the book. You get Top Shop but not the superb Greenwich & Docklands International Festival. Presumably this reflects LP's main interests. The map is good but the book is not worth buying. The Rough Guide offers more and better information on London.