Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Announcing The SOTM World Tour

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Here’s the Earth – I’ll soon be going around it, taking SOTMs along the way!

I’M going around the world.

Not long after I started Someone Once Told Me, I realised how great it would be to take it around the world, visiting people in their own countries, finding out the memorable things that they’ve been told in their own languages and photographing them in far-flung places around the globe.

So that is exactly what I am going to do.

I earn a living as a journalist for the BBC News website. But my boss has kindly agreed to a career break – which is common at the BBC – and I will be travelling the world for one year from the start of June. I will not be drawing a salary from the BBC during this time.

The Itinerary

My route is largely driven by SOTM readers. Since early in the site’s existence, I’ve had offers from SOTM readers around the world to visit them where they live, from Italy to India and across the United States, among other countries.

Although I expect the itinerary to change significantly in the coming months, these are the destinations that I hope to visit:

  • France (Paris)
  • Germany (Berlin)
  • Switzerland (Geneva, Zug)
  • Italy (Emilia-Romagna)
  • Malta
  • Egypt (Cairo)
  • South Africa (Port Elizabeth, Cape Town)
  • UAE (Dubai)
  • India (Punjab, McLeod Ganj)
  • Bangladesh (Chittagong)
  • Thailand
  • Malaysia
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Philippines (Manila)
  • China (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing)
  • South Korea
  • Japan (Tokyo)
  • Australia (Sydney, Melbourne)
  • USA (cross-country tour)

I’d also like to include Scotland, Brazil and Mexico but that will depend on my budget so I’m leaving them off for now. If I can find a way to get to those places then I will add them in.

Giving Back

I’ve plan to continue my work with Operation Smile, the charity which operates on cleft palates for children around the world. All profits from the SOTM app already go directly to it, and I’d like to visit one of its clinic events while on my travels, to take SOTMs of the children and parents there. I’ll need to work out if I’ll be close enough to a clinic when one is in operation, as they run at certain times in various locations.

In addition to the app, I’m considering more ways in which the SOTM World Tour can support Operation Smile and the life-changing work they do for children.

Documenting The Trip

I’ll be blogging about the trip here on SOTMario and putting video clips on the SOTM YouTube channel. Plus I’ll be sharing on SOTM’s social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Even more news: I’m planning to write a book about this journey.  It will be a memoir combining my own stories from the road with those of my most fascinating SOTM subjects.

This trip is something I’ve thought about a lot over the years. Whenever I considered SOTM’s future, I kept returning to the idea that doing a trip like this would advance the project in a beautiful, noisy, thrilling way. So I intend to gather as many pictures during this year as I flipping well can, hopefully at least 1,000 which will tell three years’ worth of daily stories on the site.

The thought of doing this trip is immensely exciting, hugely challenging and very terrifying at the same time. It will change my life forever. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and now I have a website as a theme with which to do it. It won’t be without its challenges – it’ll mean living in casual clothes for a year (I love my suits), not having access to an iron (I love my iron), and sleeping on a fair few floors and couches (I sleep badly in a bed, let alone on a floor).

I Need Your Help

This trip can’t happen without you.

My budget is extremely tight. If I were to delay, it would be until Spring 2014 and for various reasons that’s too far away. If I’m ever going to go, it’s got to be this summer. So I have to keep the costs down by relying on people’s goodwill.

These are the sort of things that I need:

  • Contacts in the countries I’ll be visiting. Would you like to pose for SOTM, round up friends who’ll be photographed, and possibly translate into English where necessary?
  • Places to stay. Do you have a spare room or couch where I could stay for a few days? In return, you’ll receive my eternal thanks, a print of your SOTM photo, and a special mention on the SOTMario blog. I’ll buy you a nice dinner, too.
  • Contacts in the press anywhere in the world, particularly in those countries that I’ll be visiting. Do you work in the media – online, radio, and TV? Would you be interested in writing about the SOTM journey? I need as much media coverage as possible, to get people’s attention so that they either offer to meet for a photo, or send one in. The SOTM story makes for an eye-catching picture feature, as it already has in the London Metro, Times of Malta, and Boing Boing.

Please do get in touch if you can help with any of the above – you can contact me on Twitter, Facebook or you can email me via mario [at] sotmario [dot] com.

Thanks for reading all this, and look out for further updates as time edges closer to my departure. It’s going to be a hell of a journey, and I’d love for you all to come with me, in some way or another.

Entertaining Edinburgh

Saturday, January 5th, 2013


AS it turned out, 2012 was a real year of achieving ambitions for me.

I got round to doing a good few things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, like go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visit the Moulin Rouge (both for my birthday) and even went to some fascinating sites in Germany, which included Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and an SS museum in Wewelsburg.

Last, but not least, I went to Hogmanay in the beautiful Scottish city of Edinburgh.

As my previous post explains, I was there as part of Blogmanay which saw a number of top travel bloggers descend on the Scottish capital to sample the best of its new year festivities, and push out their opinions of it via social media and their own blogs, using the #blogmanay hashtag on Twitter in particular.

I heard some captivating SOTM stories while I was there, and managed to get 21 photos and accompanying stories in total. One of the funniest was told by the charming Kay, who works as a tour guide for Haggis Adventures.

I posted a sneak preview of her SOTM on Twitter and Facebook, which you can see here. I’ll be putting her full picture and story up on SOTM quite soon, but in the meantime have a guess as to what the missing word is. Her tale is linked to a wardrobe malfunction…

Aside from Kay’s story, I heard tales of a man being arrested when aged 17, of how asking for chicken in a Spanish supermarket can easily be mistaken for something much ruder, of a mobile phone text that ripped a family apart, and what a stripper in Amsterdam told an Aussie chap as he clambered onstage to be part of her show.

Otherwise, Edinburgh offers some smashing opportunities for memorable photographs, especially if you can get your hand out your glove long enough to bear the cold and take some smartphone shots via Instagram. You can see the sorts of things that I snapped as I walked around on my Instagram feed.

Among all those shots, which included the beautiful castle, traditional Scottish pipers and even discarded headgear, this image of a side street, which took mere moments to capture, was my favourite.

I also set myself a challenge – to actually use my flash for a change. I have a Nikon Speedlight SB-600 and it seems perfectly mid-range, good enough for the sorts of guerrilla shots that I like to take, especially of SOTMs in dark bars and dingy alleyways, which is often the case – not that I’ve ever used it to actually find out what it can do. Seriously, I’ve had the thing years and have never used it.

But during Hogmanay I simply couldn’t employ my usual technique of holding my breath, trying to keep perfectly still by leaning on something solid and listening to the rhythm of my camera’s slow shutter.

Taking lots of shots this way, without a tripod and only using whatever light is available, has usually been good enough for me, believe it or not, particularly when shooting in black and white.

But it is not good enough for a fast-moving torchlight procession through the Edinburgh streets. I finally had to give in and strap on the flash.

I’ve actually never read the manual for my Nikon D90, and paid the same courtesy to the flash that I’ve had in a drawer for the past four years.

So I just whacked it on the hot shoe, figured how to knock down the power so that it was only punching out a bit of light (it already has a diffuser) and hoped for the best. As ever with photography, I just act instinctively. Everything is always set to manual, so I’m completely responsible for my successes and failures.

My first attempts were patchy, but then I worked out that my shutter speed was too slow, and recalled how I’d recently read a photography post about keeping the shutter speed above 1/60 while using a flash.

So I quickened the shutter and bang! – the SB-600 started to seduce me with its ability to grab fast-moving shots that were in focus and not bleached out, as you can see here from this shot of travel bloggers Budget Traveller and Adventurous Kate.

Taken in the dark, at high speed - saved by the flash

I’m always going to want to take photographs using natural light, but I grew more confident with the flash during my trip, and will definitely be using it more in future, as the results I got were definitely an improvement on what I’d have got just using the torchlight from the procession.

So, Edinburgh. Great for shots of a beautiful city full of history, dramatic skies and charming streets that make lovely backdrops. Also, full of friesndly people

with weird and wonderful stories. And if you’re in town around December 31 on any year, prepare to party!

This campaign is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by Visit Scotland, ETAG, Edinburgh Festivals, Haggis Adventures and Skyscanner. As always, opinions are my own.


Friday, December 28th, 2012
Pic: Lloyd Smith, Edinburgh's Hogmanay

The Loony Dook in 2011 (Pic: Lloyd Smith, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay)

I’VE been lucky enough to have had a few Scottish friends in my time – and aside from being splendid company, they have always been full of stories.

Happily, I’m now about to head to Edinburgh to see in the new  year, as one of a group of bloggers invited for the Hogmanay celebrations there. This fine gathering of some of the best travel bloggers around is named Blogmanay – geddit? I’ll be there from 29 December until I return to London on 2 January – the rest of the group move on that latter date for a tour of Scotland until 9 January.

Apart from taking SOTMs of the rest of the Blogmanay group, I’ll be getting general shots of all the shenanigans going on too. Do give me a nudge if you’d like to pose for SOTM while I’m in Edinburgh, particularly if you’re a local.

Here’s some of the events that I’ll be photographing over the next few days:

Torchlight Procession through Edinburgh’s city centre.

Concert in the Gardens headlined by Simple Minds, also with Bwani Junction and The View.

Hogmanay Street Party and Street Carnival which is legendary the world over! A Scottish chap I know has already advised me to get to Princes Street on New Year’s Eve “if you like kissing”. 

The Keilidh which is a traditional Scottish dance party. Might try and slip a few Gangnam Style moves in.

Midnight Fireworks and World’s Biggest Auld Lang Syne which sounds like a nightmare for the adjudicators. Imagine trying to do the headcount on that one.

Edinburgh’s Dogmanay which is sled racing by dogs. Boom.

Loony Dook where people dress up, walk through the city and then jump into the sea. I’d love to take part, but I, er, don’t want to get my camera wet…

And this isn’t even all that’s taking place at Hogmanay this year.  See more of what’s going on here.

To keep up with all the updates from me and the other bloggers, follow the #Blogmanay tag on Twitter and Instagram. Do feel free to join in with using the tag if you’ll be in Edinburgh for Hogmanay. You can also follow the official Blogmanay tumblr.

Some of the finest travel bloggers on the webs will be in Edinburgh – here’s a who’s who of the attendees.

Kash from The Budget Traveller, Melvin from Traveldudes, Kirsten from Aviators and a Camera, Mike from Fevered Mutterings, Chris from The Aussie Nomad, Isabelle from Isabelle’s Travel Guide, JD from earthXplorer, Audrey and Dan from Uncornered Market, Peter from Travel Unmasked, Jools from Trains on the Brain, Amanda from A Dangerous Business, Emma from Emma’s Travel Tales, Flora fromFlora the Explorer, Kate from Adventurous Kate, Abhishek from Wild Navigator, Nadine from The Nadwork, Jane from Runaway Jane, Julie from A Lady in London, and Mei and Jo from CC Food Travel.

Many thanks to the organisers for putting on such a splendid  feast of activities: Edinburgh’s HogmanayEventScotlandVisitScotlandEdinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG), Festivals EdinburghHaggis Adventures and Skyscanner.

Oh, and one final word of caution – there’s rumours of kilts being provided for the male members of this esteemed group. You have been warned…

Time To Rethink And Refresh

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

This is what SOTM’s home page looks like now – but what should it look like in future?

AFTER more than five years and more than 1,900 photos posted on Someone Once Told Me I’m wondering what to do next with the site, which has changed my life in so many ways.

I mean, I can’t just stop, can I? There are so many stories out there to collect, and I still love hearing the poignant, crazy and remarkable things people have been told. I’ve still never missed a single day of putting up a new photograph, something I’m incredibly proud of.

Again, I thank all those people who have shared their memorable moments in life with the rest of us, through SOTM.

I have a couple of Big Ideas about what to do next with the site. One is REALLY big, and I’ll share that with you within the next few weeks, once a few things are in place.

But right now, what I can talk about is how I’ve realised that the site needs a refresh. It’s great as it is, in my opinion, but the internet, social media and the way people use both have moved on considerably since 8 September 2007, when the site’s first ever picture went up.

I met up with Max, SOTM’s curly-haired genius site programmer, and as he said, social media wasn’t anywhere as important or influential as it is now. I wasn’t even on Twitter, for example, when the site launched. These days you can find me on there at @SOTMario and the site has a Facebook page.

So it’s time to rethink how SOTM is presented, and to refresh the site. Max and I are going to start kicking around a few ideas, with the plan that he makes the changes in February, as that’s when his schedule will allow work to be done. I’ve got a few suggestions, mainly along the lines of making it immediately obvious how to interact with SOTM via social media, while maintaining a focus on the image and story of the day.

But I’d love to hear from you guys, the people who have kept SOTM alive for so long, about what you would like to see happen. How should the site be presented in future? What should it look like? Is there anything missing that should be included? How should the site tie in more with social media?

Please do get in touch with any suggestions, either by leaving a comment here or through one of these methods. I’d love to hear from you.

SOTM iPhone app

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Mockup for SOTM app homepageWORK is firmly under way on the SOTM iPhone application, and here’s a screen shot of the home page – click on it for a larger image, which you can also zoom in on.

My idea is to allow people to use the app to take SOTM photos without the need for paper, pen or conventional camera, at any time or in any place. Instead, it can all be done via this app which will take a photo of someone, then allow the user to place a white space in front of their subject’s image, mimicking the SOTM style.

Then, a relevant message can be typed onto the white space, and the image will be sent to me, for use on the SOTM website. Also, the user can post their app images to their twitter and Facebook pages.

I’m currently talking to a charity about paying the profits from the download fees to them, and hopefully that will work out to become a fruitful partnership for lots of different reasons. I’ll post more on that as things progress there.

I certainly hope that people will use the app to generate photographs for SOTM, but also I hope the downloads will mean a few people from poorer backgrounds around the world will benefit from the SOTM project. Which would be pretty cool all round.

The app will hopefully go live around the start of December, and I’d love for people to blog about it and generally spread the word when it does. And download it, of course 😀 It will only be available on the iPhone, as I can’t afford to go cross-platform, but so long as that works out as well as I hope, then I’ll be looking for sponsors to develop Blackberry and Android versions, with the same charity policy.

Hacked Off

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

YOU might have noticed how Someone Once Told Me and this blog were both blacklisted by Google, Firefox and AVG for about 10 days around the end of July/start of August.

This was because a hacker, or at least probably their software, exploited a WordPress security issue, gained access to SOTMario and placed dodgy code here. We’re not sure what sort of code it was, but it wasn’t up very long.

However, the hacking software then jumped over to the SOTM site and put the code on there too, because the passwords for both sites were the same. Those passwords have been changed now, of course, and are no longer matching.

Max, SOTM’s programmer, took the code out swiftly, but it took Google a few days to give the all-clear, so in the meantime the hits slumped. But normal service has now been resumed, so hopefully things will get back to normal now.

Apologies for the disruption, and thanks for your patience.