Toilet Reading: ‘Spirit & Destiny’

In a regular series, Land of Dope and Tories is reviewing publications from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This week: Spirit & Destiny

Tagline: ‘Your spiritual guide to life’

Price: £3.20

Who is this magazine for? People need something to believe in. A god perhaps. Fate. Brian Cox. For some, it’s fairies (always called ‘faeries’ for some reason), ghostly images of Native Americans and, well, the poorly-drawn tarot cards of someone called Radleigh Valentine. Spirit & Destiny is for those people.

And when I say people, I mean women. In Spirit & Destiny‘s 98 pages, only three men feature. One is a ‘spiritual warrior’, who contributes an article spiritually focused on references to his successful business ventures. One is an internationally acclaimed psychic who looks like a boil-in-the-bag Peter Capaldi. And the other one is the Dalai Lama.

A quick glance at the team reveals that the male involvement in the magazine extends no further than a bit of light sub-editing.

Spirit and Destiny

‘Oh, and the MD of course. Because we couldn’t have the girls worrying themselves with all that malarkey.’

And when I say women, I mean white women. Spirit & Destiny is as diverse as an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that means it is intolerant of diversity – that’s a hard position to maintain if you are committed to a regular ‘Neighbourhood Witch’ column – but it does suggest this mag is not for the urban metropolitan ponce.

What did you get for your £3.20? A lot of magazines will include a horoscopes section amongst their features. Spirit & Destiny prefers to fit the occasional feature around the horoscopes. 14 pages are devoted to the bibblings of astrologist David Wells, a sinister looking type who looks like the wrong ‘un in an episode of Midsomer Murders.

However, the features do not disappoint. Drum-birthing, vision questing for beginners, how to manifest your perfect life, pagan wedding rituals, transpsychic pigs – you couldn’t make it up, although in the last case I just did.

Away from the set-pieces, there are substantial sections on wisdom and advice (which covers communication with animals, angels and shaman), mind, body & spirit (featuring diet advice that is suspiciously enthusiastic about supplements rather than, say, food) and the old favourites – regular columns, letters, competitions and the usual earthly magazine detritus.

The aforementioned ‘Neighbourhood Witch’ column – which really ought to have been named Wicca-pedia – gives hints and tips on season spellcasting (this month: ‘a sky clad candle-thorn spell for uncovering deceit’) courtesy of Ann-Marie Gallagher.

As a witch, Ann-Marie is a little sub-par. She doesn’t even wear a hat. The good news is that apparently all the ingredients you need for magic – a piece of cardboard, a jar of red ink, a soft beeswax candle – can be picked up at Wilkinsons for less than a fiver. Newt doesn’t feature once.

Features: And so on to the features. The pick of the bunch is drum birthing, in which a grumpy blonde woman attempts to salve a marriage blighted with bickering by creating a shamanic drum.  She is pictured in Kent woodland, eyes closed as a pair of crusties wave smoke about, scrape shapes in the mud with a bit of twig and sing at a bit of drum skin. Her husband is conspicuous by his absence from these pictures, presumably as he is hiding behind the yurt, smoking fags and muttering ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake.’

Anyway, Grumpy comes away enriched, and says she’ll now ‘just do a wee spot of drumming whenever Andy and I are getting on each other’s nerves’, which is sure to calm the situation down (‘Oh, for fuck’s sake’).

An honourable mention must also go to the distressingly batshit Pam Grout who, despite have a name that would suit a character from Porridge, is in fact a best-selling Kansas novelist, pushing affirmations as the cure for all mortal ills. The schtick – want something  enough and it will manifest itself – is undermined by three things; the fact that Noel Edmonds buys into it, the two concrete examples of failure that Ms Grout volunteers and ignores in the article itself, and the fact her piece includes the sentence ‘I’m using spiritual laws to show that there are unseen forces at work, just as physics does,’ which could be a citation for the Nobel Prize for bollocks.

Vision questing, by the way, is ‘an ancient way of finding spiritual guidance and learning your life’s purpose, which you can use to tackle issues that trouble your mind and sap your energy.’ I stopped reading at that point, but apparently it can make you the world’s most ecstatic flutist if you’re not careful.

Spirit and Destiny

‘There’s something unhealthy about this picture. It may just be the Photoshop opportunities.’

Adverts: What becomes pretty clear after flicking through Spirit & Destiny is that the spiritual world is often a crutch that many lonely people cling hard to for solace. So of course there’s a whole pile of hawkers slavering at the opportunity to capitalise on their hope.

The insidious side of Spirit & Destiny is not so much the adverts, which generally fit into one of the two default magazine archetypes – small ad premium rate phone lines, full page glossies of shiny women pushing transparent guff – it’s the product placement within the articles. Every feature ends with a plug. An aromatherapy article manages to flog sixteen different products, from books to mimulus, in three pages.

Spirit and Destiny

‘The boil-in-the-bag chap I mentioned earlier is simply asking people to mail him cheques. To a Kensington address, the bastard.

And this shit is insanely expensive. A reed diffuser (a smelly room perfumer that I know about because I’m aggressively in touch with my feminine side) that you can buy in a supermarket for five quid is going for £13.49. Buddha pendant that might have come out a mid-range cracker? That’s forty quid to you madam. Breathing therapy – and I’m really not making this one up – will set you back £150 for a ninety-minute session.

Letters page: Sprit and Destiny bags a pair of letters pages, a rare joy. After a couple of attempts, I’ve decided I don’t have the writing power to do justice to the Star Letter, so here it is in full:

Spirit and Destiny

‘Angela is the one on the right by the way.’

Elsewhere, the letters fall in to three categories; talking to dead people, talking to not-people (angels, etc), and questionable success stories (‘reiki fixed my dog!’). There is also an advice section applying spiritual wisdom to time-honoured women’s magazine problems – men being bastards, dead-end jobs, issues with the in-laws. The views given are generally the usual stuff, but with occasionally sharp turns into oddness, as if two conflicting radio signals have been jammed together.

For example, having provided some sound advice on whether to introduce a child to her estranged father, the magazine’s expert then suggests: ‘before you introduce this news, light a red candle to honour the Celtic fire goddess Brighid, and ask for her aid…And of course, remember her feast day on 1 February by bringing snowdrops in to your home.’

Rating: 2/10

I’m not a spiritual person. As a hyper-rationalist, technophile tosser, taking the piss out of this world was a bit of a free hit. But I’m not a chicken person either, and that was an infinitely more enjoyable read.

Spirit & Destiny is the thin end of the wedge in a huge industry that preys on vulnerable people, touting snake oil and bullshit to people who’d be better off with a listening ear and a bloody good hotpot. It’s a polished and really quite readable magazine. But that disguises the fact it’s basically a costly placebo brochure, and that’s a little depressing.

Still, as a Sagittarius, I suppose I would say that.

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Toilet Reading: ‘Crafty Carper’

In a regular series, Land of Dope and Tories is reviewing publications from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This week: Crafty Carper

Tagline: ‘Get Crafty, get catching!’

Price: £4.10

Who is this magazine for? Saggy, bulbous and the colour of a month-old potato, the carp is a hard fish to love. Fu Manchu fangs and a chronic overbite blight their vacant faces. Their bodies cut through placid waters with the sleekness of a Volvo estate.

And yet, many love them dearly. Enough people, apparently, for more than one magazine to be dedicated to carp fishing. More than five, in fact. There’s Big Carp. Advanced CarpTotal Carp. Carpworld. CarpTALK, where you can talk carp.

The question then, is not what kind of person the Crafty Carper is aiming for, but what kind of carp fisherman. The clue is in the pricing. Undercutting much the competition by as much as ten pence,  this magazine is for carp fishermen who sail close to the wind, who ride on the edges of life. They play the margins, roll with the punches. The grafters and the crafters. Loki’s anglers.

What did you get for your £4.10? I’ve been fishing three times. I have never caught any fish. Indeed, my fishing career to date has consisted of dangling bait hopelessly into the water before reeling in clean hooks. I’m essentially a technology-enhanced fish waiter. So I was keen to find out what all that unnecessary equipment could do in the right hands.

Crafty Carper is glossy – a practical choice for people marooned for hours on rainy river banks. Clocking in at 130 pages, it is a substantial read. Lots of features, a handful of competitions and fiendishly small font; this is a magazine that does not hide the fact it is  for people with lots of time to kill.

Unfortunately, Crafty Carper falls in to the trap that often snares magazines with a zany title – it finds the title joke a little bit too funny. The contents page offers Crafty Tricks with Plastic, Crafty Columnists and Crafty Competitions.

Crafty Fox

Nothing is that crafty. Not even this fox.

This kind of laziness can only be explained by the slightly po-faced treatment of many other rich seams of childish humour in the world of carp. Apart from the anagrammatical obviousnesses, carp fishing is a world of floaters, chod, and getting one’s rod out. Sadly, the sub-editors are too absorbed with trying to crowbar the word ‘crafty’ in wherever possible to put away these multiple open goals.

That’s a pity. But on the other hand, had the innuendo-count been more tightly policed, it’s hard to imagine this would have made it on to the first page.

Carp fishing

French carp you see, they’ve only got one thing on their minds.

Features: Carp is the most widely eaten fish in the world. However, recipes were thin on the ground in Crafty Carper, possibly because carp tastes of mud. That kind of obstacle is hard to overcome with even a particularly accomplished cheese sauce.

Most of the features, unsurprisingly, focus on mano a fisho combat, with a emphasis on big ‘uns. I would be lying if I said any of these stories stood out, with each one following the same basic narrative arc. ‘I drove to the lake. I waited for a bit. I nearly caught a fish. I caught a fish. I’d do it all again.’

From these stories, I learned three things. First, ‘big’ in the carp world means about 40lb or more. That translates into about six babies. Second, there is only one acceptable way to hold a caught carp, which is as if it was six babies.

Fish carrying

Cradled like a first-born. 

And third, no matter how dull fishing stories are, they’re Hunter S. Thompson compared to bait stories.

Adverts: Fishing was one of humanity’s most ancient and simple crafts. Not any more.

Modern fishing is dominated by middle-aged men seeking escape from their wives, families and office hours (almost no women appear in the pages of Crafty Carper). Fish marketing is therefore almost entirely devoted to creating products that make these men think that they are in fact members of the SAS.

There are two basic tactics at work. The first is the judicious use of numbers, squared off typefaces and clipped promises that make fishing line replacements sound like high-grade munitions.

The more sneaky tactic is to offer products that a real man – like the ones in shaving foam adverts – wouldn’t be seen dead not having. If you don’t possess these things, he’ll emerge from his silver Mercedes to laugh in your face at both your comic ill-preparedness and microscopic penis / fish. But nobody needs a ‘siren bite alarm’ or a ‘carp shack bivvy’, whatever Mr Gillette says. Humans have had bite alarms forever. We used to call them senses.

Life in the SAS can get lonely. This is disturbingly indicated by the adverts at the back.

French carp

I did say those French carp only had one thing on their minds.

Letters page: Crafty Carper has no letters page. Mere words, those imperfect building blocks of communications and understanding, simply cannot not express the elemental pride of holding a big ugly fish.

carp fishing

Paternal pride doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Rating: 6/10

Crafty Carper is a good catch, if repetitive tedium enlivened by occasional excitement is your bag. And in this case, I suppose it is.

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Toilet Reading: ‘Obstacle Race’

In a regular series, Land of Dope and Tories is reviewing publications from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This week: Obstacle Race. 

Tagline: ‘The No.1 magazine for obstacle course racing’

Price: £4.95

Who is this magazine for? For some people, plain old running simply isn’t futile or difficult enough. The grim squirt of endorphins garnered from making a trip from A to B under their own steam – one that could just as easily have been made in a comfy, air-conditioned car – lacks the necessary zest.

Anyone can run, they think. I am an elite being. My profile describes me as gritty, determined, wastin’ no time for time wasters. I use exclamation marks a lot, but wouldn’t recognise an actual joke if it bit me firmly on the arse. My friends have long since tired of my overbearing will to win and craven need for attention. But I need something more, something that helps me to fight this inexplicable emptiness I feel in my heart.

I need obstacles I can smash through, to conquer. And, so help me God, I need lycra.

What did you get for your £4.95? For me at least, the biggest obstacle to overcome was the price tag. Five quid for fewer than 100 pages is a tough sell, particularly when 2% of that is invested on a profile of ‘Mr Awesomeness’. For that kind of money, I want something I can treasure for a number of years and consider naming in bequests for when I pass away.

obstacle course

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Awesomeness.

I did not get this.

The mag follows a pretty traditional formula: features (about obstacle races), reviews (of obstacle races), adverts (for obstacle race stuff) and regulars (yes).

I was always going to struggle with Obstacle Race because I find the whole idea of purposeless running morally dubious and carcinogenic. But there were two things that stood out as especially annoying.

The first is the type of obstacles the mag talks about. When I was at nursery school, an obstacle race meant crawling through a hoop, walking along a thin bench, and possibly putting on an unusual hat and skirt combination that smelled vaguely of mothballs. Good, honest English surrealism, but also things that required at least some peripheral brain power to negotiate. Pain was a possibility, but not the object of the race.

Obstacle race

This is a proper obstacle race.


In this adult version, the obstacles are basically mud, walls and the dark. Thinking is not required, beef-witted determinism is. If it doesn’t hurt, you’ve done it wrong. Whereas the kids races would be won by the wiliest and speediest, the ideal adult candidate is nerveless chunk of pork animated by electrodes. One of the reviewed races has a paintball zone in it. It’s only a matter of time before they start using a Gatling gun.

The second irritating thing is the tone. There’s an awful lot of ‘visualising your goals’ and ‘man up your mind-set’ (From a woman! You go girl) management guffpap going on.  Combined with nonsense like ‘really muddy mud’, ‘absolute top quality’ and ‘to my surprise, I could air squat pretty well’, and the net result is the deadening feeling of being lectured at by a Commonwealth bronze medallist turned C-list motivational speaker.

Good subbing should cut the number of words on offer by at least a third, but in swapping defiantly for definitely, sweet potato for a side order of Sweet Potato and having a pretty loose grip on commas throughout, the subs have got other things to worry about. Your Chickens wouldn’t have put up with this shit.

Features: There are four race reviews in the third edition of Obstacle Race, but they all essentially follow the same pattern:

  • I got up very early.
  • The race started.
  • There was some mud.
  • There was some water.
  • I finished.

This leaves precious little scope for comedy, or interest, so I propose we move on.

Adverts: There are amazingly few adverts in Obstacle Race, which explains both the price and excess of content. The handful that have squeezed in are for races (including one called ‘The Suffering’ – sign me up), shoes and the forum ‘Talk Mud‘, which I assume is a safe online space for the discussion of obstacle-based foreplay.

Letters page: Obstacle Course has imposed a 100 word limit on letter submissions. So to be generous to the writers, I’m going to put the fact that their contributions would shame a nine-year old down to that.

It's always nice to make someone's date.

It’s always nice to make someone’s date.

Certainly no sense of community argument here. Which is a shame, because I for one would like the lid to be busted off that ‘barbed wire vs chicken wire’ obstacle tunnel debate.

Rating: 3/10

Lots of people who run obstacle races do it for charity, and that’s lovely.

But that doesn’t prevent the sport, nor the magazine that celebrates it, from being painfully dull. Duller than keeping chickens. Duller than shooting birds.

Don’t make me read it again.

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Toilet Reading: ‘Shooting Gazette’

In a regular series, Land of Dope and Tories is reviewing publications from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This week: Shooting Gazette

Tagline: ‘Driven Shooting’s Finest Journal’

Price: £4.10

Who is this magazine for? Now, if that lovely Peter Wilson chap who won a gold medal for GB taught us anything, it’s that shooting is a sport. Not something where animals or people get hurt. Just a nice sport. Like fencing. Or horse dancing. Peter shot clays, which have the heft and taste of a three-day old Greggs steak bake. What they most definitely didn’t have was a central nervous system.

Shooting Gazette is pitched towards a different type of gun enthusiast. To be clear – this not pitched at the Danny Dyer ‘ere, geez…’eez got a shooter!’ end of the market. No, this is a magazine for gentlemen. Gentlemen who enjoy blasting birds out of the sky.

What did you get for your £4.10? As you’d expect for a mag that is aimed at people who either own a country estate or are good mates with someone who does, production values are high. The 122 pages of January’s edition are glossy. The full-colour group photos of white men wearing identical green wax jackets and stout boots are plentiful.

shooting party

A typically diverse shooting party.

The writing is solid. The correspondents are called Will, Giles, Ben, James and Barney. This is a toilet read of substance.

The mag comes in four sections: gazetteer (regulars, news-in-briefs, and The Great Debate, of which more in a second), features (eight this month), reviews and a ten page supplement on gun dogs. Rather disappointingly, gun dogs are not guns shaped like dogs. Or dogs shaped like guns.

The tone and content of magazine is summed up perfectly by The Great Debate page. This is Shooting Gazette‘s take on a classic magazine trick, where you get two columnists to write diametrically opposing views about some trifle. Usually these are titled in emphatic capitals: ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ or ‘FOR’ and ‘AGAINST’. In Shooting Gazette the battle lines are ‘Yes please’ and ‘Rather not’. (This raging debate was on the acceptability or otherwise of woodcock shooting. The case against largely boils down to the fact that they’re a bit shit to eat.)

My favourite section is the reviews. Now I know review sections are usually for expensive, over-aspirational stuff that PR friends have lent to the mag’s staff for a jolly. But the fact that a 230 grand Ferrari, houses for a snip at under £2.8m and B&Bs kicking off at £145 per person per night might pique the readers’ interest is…well, I was going to say revealing, but what you actually feel is simply ball-aching resentment at these stonkingly rich bastards.

Features: There were two reasons I picked up Shooting Gazette for this week’s Toilet Reading. The first is that there was only one copy in my local newsagent, and I took great pleasure in denying N4’s only resident pheasant-potter his monthly periodical. The second was the cover promising an article on ‘Classic shoot day gaffes’.

It turns out that there are social faux pas lurking in every shoot. Some of the errors I had expected (shooting the host’s wife, forgetting your gun, tramping fresh dog shit through the gun room), but there were plenty I hadn’t even considered (having your dog gather up someone else’s shot birds, forgetting to thank the ‘beaters’, not taking any pheasants home with you at the end of the day because your pantry is already too stuffed with delicious, cold money). This piece was not quite  the You’ve Been Maimed comedy feast I  hoped for, but at least I now know what to do if I ever get invited to a shoot. Not turn up.

The other features were less amusing and comprised of travel brochure shots of verdant, frigid British countryside full of tweedy men pointing guns at the sky.

shooting, foggy

Lovely day for it.

Adverts: Guns are sexy aren’t they? Really sexy.

gun advert

Phwoar. It’s like a beautiful cravat. The cravat of death.

Interestingly, second hand guns are sold in a very similar way to second hand cars in local newspapers. One flattering photo in a good light, lots of dense text and obscure acronyms, and at least one vintage gem on the page that’s going for a truly fuck off price. ‘A pair of vintage Berettas, sir? That’ll be £110,000.’

Mind you, these are people with so much land that more than one company has placed classified ads for their services in building car parks.

Other than that, there’s all the wellies, dog food, 4x4s and gun cartridges you could hope for. Unless you want anything in a colour that isn’t green or brown, in which case, you can just jog on right now.

Letters page: There was a letters page. Unfortunately it was quite dull, and made you feel as if you were stuck at the bar of a country pub listening to Don telling his story about the last pheasant he ever shot for the fifth time. 

More entertaining was columnist who huffed out 700 words about the needlessness of health and safety guidelines, blustering to the conclusion: ‘I blame the lily-livered schools.’

Rating: 5/10

Shooting Gazette is a polished magazine. But it’s a hard one to love, and not because of  the hobby it cheerleads for. It assumes the reader has deep knowledge of the highly elaborate social hierarchy of the shoot, and regularly descends into Quidditch bizarreness with talk of ‘beaters’, ‘keepers’ and ‘picker-uppers’. There are a total of three woman pictured in it. There is not a single non-white person anywhere.

It’s a dying sport. But the Gazette is a fine obituary.

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In praise of Harringay Market

There’s no point in denying it. I’m a definitively middle class person. I’ve got a myWaitrose card. I know what my favourite brand of hummus is.  I’ve been known to wear those jumpers with a collar and cuffs sewn in to give the impression I’m wearing a proper shirt underneath.

Stupid jumper with collar sewn on

But I’m not! It’s bare skin under here bitches!

One of the other big giveaways is my love of the local market. Traditional British markets were something of an embarrassment for years. In Europe, markets have always been full of wooden stalls selling delicious things and traditional toys (by which I mean the type made before toys were designed to be fun), manned by ruddy-cheeked honest tradesmen. In the UK, your standard market was a hotchpotch of creaky trestle tables offering tea towels, Soviet-era pants, and hot dogs made from mashed-up pigeon, overseen by men in string vests sucking on menthol fags.

Crap market stalls

Here, by the way, are some classic examples of the traditional Market font, which by law must be used on all vegetable pricing.

These days, markets have of course gone upmarket. Rather cleverly, people running them have realised two things. The first is there’s nothing the honest middle classes love more than giving back to the local community in a way that salves the conscience without expending too much effort. The second is that to have a proposition that will appeal to the whole family, you should completely forget about the unpleasant shopping element and just focus on food.


Nothing too fancy mind you.

Harringay Market is a perfect example of the type. Set in a primary school – so a big tick on the community front.

Harringay market

It even borrows the school’s chairs, so you can revel in nostalgia / realise how much bigger your arse has got in the last two decades.

Very sensibly, it offers very little that can’t be eaten or drunk. No mashed-up pigeon either; for about seven of your pounds you can take your pick from a cheeky gnocchi with venison ragu, a Korean-inspired burger with kimchee, or (the favourite) a prawn katsu curry. Sadly the katsu people don’t turn up as much these days, which I’ve chosen to take as them sulking about us not buying their accompanying gyoza dumplings one week (it was one time guys! Come back!).

Yes, it’s completely the ponce de la ponce, and yes, it doesn’t have the same sweaty authenticity of the Green Lanes kebab houses just a homemade brownie’s throw away.

But it’s a very pleasant place to wear my collared jumper.

And when all's said and done, who doesn't want a mulled ginger beer?

And when all’s said and done, who doesn’t want a mulled ginger beer?

Toilet Reading: ‘Your Chickens’

In a new series, Land of Dope and Tories will review a publication from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This month: Your Chickens

Tagline: ‘All You Need To Know About Keeping Chickens at Home’

Price: £3.50

Who is this magazine for? Now, the first thing to be clear on is the name. What we don’t have here is a copy of You’re Chickens; a monthly periodical to help aid the recovery of hallucinatory battery hens.

Your Chickens sets out its editorial stance on the very first page with the stand-first: ‘When chickens become family’. This is a magazine for souls who hold their own flesh and blood relatives on a similar level of affection to flappy, animated throw-cushions. We’re talking serious chicken devotees here. Or people with smelly, erratic family members.

However, throughout the magazine there is an uneasy balance between speaking to those cold, heartless bastards who see their chickens as little more than breakfast-shitting machines, and those who truly believe in the way of the chicken. The former no doubt bring in most of the magazine’s revenue, but it’s clear where the writing team’s heart lies.

What did you get for your £3.50? It would be misleading to describe Your Chickens as a thick tome. Weighing in at 58 pages for the February 2014 edition, this is a single or double toilet visit at best. That said, what it lacks in heft is more than compensated for by the number of different font colours deployed.

You get seven or eight short feature pieces, a kid’s puzzle page, a regular column or two (including the brilliantly-titled ‘Chicken Nuggets’ news-in-brief section, and a separate column written ‘by a hen’), and the obligatory letters page. There is also a Reader’s Wives-style ‘Chick Pix’ section, which is absolutely not packed with fowl-based erotica.

Your Chickens

Red hot chick and bitch action.

Features: There’s plenty to enjoy here. ‘Cockerel’s secret life with a harem of hens‘ is as steamy as you’d expect. And the article examining how so many of the influential chicken-keeping ‘movers and shakers’ were inspired by their grandparents was fascinating, not least for the unexpected revelation that there are ‘movers and shakers’ in chicken-keeping.

My favourite though, was the piece entitled ‘Mummy, can I have a pet…’ which tells the highs and lows of a chicken keeping family in Northamptonshire. After six year old Abigael gets over her initial suspicions of keeping four pet chickens instead of rabbits (‘I don’t know what chickens do.’), a Tarantino-esque scene unfolds as Sherbet pegs it and the other three start eating her lukewarm remains. Fortunately, Abigael isn’t too bruised by this. Mum Sally then gets angry because the brood is destroying her tomato boxes. But all’s well in the end, with Abigael concluding the article: ‘Now I’m pleased that we got our hens, because I now know what they do!’ (Yeah, cannibalism and shitting up your mum’s garden mostly.)

One of the slightly unsettling things that crops up regularly in the magazine is the description of chickens as ‘girls’. When the feature stories actually include young girls. confusions between human and chicken abound.

Adverts: Christ, you can buy a lot of stuff for chickens. About a third of the mag is adverts.

I thought you could just shove a load of chickens in a shed and let them get on with it, but no. There’s a bewildering array of coops on offer, plus space-age egg incubators, feed, electric fencing, stuff that kills ‘red mite’ (which I imagine is a bit like Marmite), tube feeders, wet pluckers, and, ahem, ‘humane dispatchers’.

Advertising techniques vary here, but you’re basically looking at a lot of Office 97 clipart, Comic Sans and tag lines like ‘Healthy Chickens. Happy You.’

Letters page: The chicken-keeping world is not one riven by ideological debate sadly, or at least, there’s no signs of internecine struggle on the letters page.

Correspondence tends to be on the vague side (‘My hens are brown and really skinny. Is that normal?’), which receives amusingly passive-aggressive replies from the experts (‘It’s very hard to bring my extensive knowledge of Warren-type birds without knowing the breed or age.’)

Your Chickens

One of the experts even has a chicken-based surname. Hats off Laurence.

Rating: 7/10

Chickens are tasty. However, I have no desire whatsoever to keep them, unless for some reason I didn’t want to see my sister for quite some time. So the chances of me buying this magazine again are pretty slim.

Putting that to one side, it’s hard not to like Your Chickens. These are people with a lot of love for their birds. The writing is clear, and doesn’t lapse into fowl-based jargon too often. And the letters page covers off questions about how to stop these stupid birds crapping all over their nest boxes. Good luck to them.

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London’s hidden Spanish quarter

Before I moved to London, I abhorred what it did to people who went there. Having once been sensibly sceptical about the capital’s influence and cocksure arrogance, new residents would become the most awful, sneering cheerleaders; looking down their long, smoke-smutted noses at the fetid provincials they once considered peers.

Provincials in London

This is what Londoners have in their mind’s eye when they are told to picture an out-of-towner.

Having lived here for seven years now, I am now one of those people. This is brought home to me whenever I leave London, and find myself being surprised by amenities and courtesies (things like good 3G connections and running water) I assumed would not yet have percolated through to the unwashed bumpkins in Where-The-Fuck, Bedfordshire. And for that I apologise.

Which is a long way round to saying that one of the things I like most about London is the hidden pockets of specialised excitement it has, usually around a concentrated influx of immigrants to a small area. There are lots of famous ones. Brick Lane for curries, and a mostly Bangladeshi flavour. Kingsland Road for Vietnamese restaurants. Green Lanes for Turkish kebabs. Then there’s the obscure trades that cluster together. Denmark Street, the holy grail of teenage explorations, is where all the guitar shops hang out. Chancery Lane is the last bastion of tobacconists.

Discovering a new one of these is always exciting, because it reveals there’s enough people in the city that are so enthusiastic about something that it needs a whole street of shops, cafes and other businesses – and you never knew it existed at all.

My latest is London’s mini-Spanish quarter, which is based in Hanway Street. Hanway Street is just off the eastern fag-end of Oxford Street, before Tottenham Court Road tube station. It’s the point where the chain stores thin out to be replaced by scaffolding, questionable wristwatch shops and blokes hawking ‘free perfume’ through a loudhailer to a small crowd of credulous and confused tourists.

Hanway Place

Barcelona, this ain’t.


It was mid-morning, so I couldn’t tell you whether actual bullfighting takes place in the evenings or not. The longer you look at this bull, the shorter the legs become.

Spanish music shop

We’re not just talking restaurants here. Hanway Place offers all the flamenco cassette tapes you could want (which is to say perhaps one, for about four minutes). This is where tapas restaurants across Britain buy their background music.

The best thing about these little enclaves though, is how they always have been Londonised to a degree. And often, it’s some fantastically inspired way that could never have be imagined in the original culture they were taken from.

Bradley's Spirish bar

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the world’s finest Sp-irish bar. In England.

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The 20th Century in Mr Men

1900s: Mr Slow

Mr Slow

In my mind, Mr Slow sounds like a benign Brian Blessed.

1910s: Mr Uppity

Mr Uppity

Mr Uppity’s poo-like complexion and shape played a large part in shaping my class consciousness that is now difficult to explain.

1920s: Mr Skinny

Mr Skinny

The Great Depression was a tough time for a lot of families, but people back then knew that a stylish red hat was a reasonable substitute for many basic food groups.

1930s: Mr Fussy

Mr Fussy

Herr Fussy couldn’t help but tidy up some of those ragged European borders and inconvenient minority groups, the scamp.

1940s: Mr Brave

Mr Brave

‘Never have so many owed so much to someone with such a silly hat.’

1950s: Mr Happy

Mr Happy

Mr Happy had dinner on the table waiting for him, kids that didn’t answer back and all the asbestos he could eat.

1960s: Mr Daydream

Mr Daydream

It was a crazy time, maaann.

1970s: Mr Silly

Mr Silly

The shoes. The brownness. The ridiculous hat. No Mr Man is more of his time than Mr Silly.

1980s: Mr Wrong

Mr Wrong

Rocking the Culture Club look here. I’m sorry to say there was never a Mr Mullet.

1990s: Mr Oizo

Mr Oizo

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2014: A year of train hate and death races

Happy New Year!

I, for one, am very excited about 2014. It’s a World Cup year. My homeland could be ripped asunder by a smug wee bawbag. And the UN has declared that 2014 will be the International Year of Family Farming and Crystallography. Hang on to your hats – HATS FROM THE FUTURE.

Hat from the future

Made from 95% future-lon, 5% natural fibres.

The start of a new year is a fine time for making resolutions (this will be the year I learn how to make breadcrumbs) and predictions. Here are my prophecies for the next 364 days. Remember, you heard them here first.

1. Train companies will replace energy’s Big Six as public enemy number one. 

From 2009 to 2011 it was the bankers and their filthy, ill-gotten bonuses that were grinding everyone’s gears. In 2012 and 2013, it was quisling energy companies boiling the nation’s collective piss. In 2014, the narrative will pivot once more.

British trains have been shit for years. For so long in fact, that British Rail jokes sprouted, flowered, became ubiquitous, got appropriated by 3rd-rate comedians, became boring,  disappeared, hit ‘ironic’ status, got appropriated by 4th-rate comedians, and disappeared again.

FCC rolling stock

First Capital Connect unveils some new rolling stock for 2014.

The time has come to get angry. I take a train almost every day. They are the least appealing form of public transport. Even National Express buses are less sticky and abused, and they sometimes cost £1 a ticket. Trains cost more per mile than placing oneself in a solid gold box and being posted. They frequently don’t turn up because of staff shortages, a problem akin to a shop not opening because the sales assistants couldn’t be fagged to turn up. The entire network collapses at any hint of weather, inclement or placid. And the management thinks that naff etiquette campaigns are what’ll get the public on side.

The backlash begins here.

2. Britain will remember it’s supposed to be crap at sport.

The 2010s have so far been a golden age of British sport. Two consecutive Tour De France winners, after missing out on so much as a podium finish for over a century. A first men’s Wimbledon win in 76 years. Three Ashes series on the bounce. The best national Olympic performance since 1928.

Wimbledon victory

Against the natural order.

Expect the wheels to come off spectacularly this year. All the ingredients are in place. The English cricket team Down Under is crumbling like a tiramisu in a sandstorm. The two major international sporting jamborees in 2014 – the Winter Olympics and the World Cup – are events where we always combine high expectations with no talent. A British city with a poorer life expectancy than Soweto is hosting the Commonwealth Games. Murray can’t win his tennis matches any more. We’re still crap at rugby compared to the southern hemisphere.

Typical British sport

The natural order.

But in our lowest moments, unlikely heroes emerge. Remember when everyone briefly cared about curling? Skeleton? That was simply because we were too crap at everything else to cobble together a 30-second highlight reel for the ten o’ clock news. So the stage is well set for a national love affair with a totally unloved sport. I predict showjumping will get far more attention in 2014 than it ever truly deserves.

3. Trouble at the top

After those few early wobbles, the coalition government has been remarkably stable in terms of its personnel. But with an election less than 18 months away, any pretence of getting things done will slip further down the agenda to be replaced by shouting and manoeuvring.

The odds are reasonably set on a thin Labour win. But despite all they’ve been through, the Lib Dems could bizarrely end up as the kingmakers again in 2015. And if Labour do get the most seats, they’d struggle to maintain the ConDem status quo with any kind of legitimacy. So cosying up has to slice both ways. A tactical resignation from a senior Lib Dem – perhaps one who’s not a friend of Nick – could be a helpful play towards getting a plum job in a new red-yellow coalition. Can’t think of any obvious candidates that fit that description though.

Vince Cable

‘How about you Vince? Can you think of any?’

4. Another Royal baby

Bound to happen. Kate’s looking well, isn’t she?

Kate M

Incidentally, I wonder how many tabloid readers in the 1930s were fapping away over the current Queen? The Sun really has brought so much new and precious joy to this country, bless it.

But of course that’s all a distraction, because this new baby will have Harry’s name all over it. Whether this baby will actually become public knowledge in 2014 is an entirely separate matter.

5. No heartening stories will come out of America. 

The place is all over the shop to be honest. Can’t even produce a decent Eminem album these days.

Ineffectual in-fighting will restrict America’s global impact in 2014 to internet memes, a couple of school shootings and a baked goods craze that rocks east London for about 72 hours.


And anyway, Greggs has been making more outlandish creations than the ‘cronut’ for years, as anyone who’s tried their sausage and baked bean pie will testify.

6. North Korea will struggle on. 

The world’s most comi-tragic regime will remain depressingly erratic over the next twelve months. Expect more nuclear threats and photoshopped hovercraft.

7. Television and popular music will improve immeasurably.

Hahahahahahaha. Lolz.

If we’re really lucky, Cowell will see the writing on the wall and throw his lot in with a dramality show where teenagers on a housing estate in Grantham will be forced at gunpoint to eat pureed bat scrotums whilst bashing out Autotuned versions of George Michael’s back catalogue.

8. Fitness steps up a gear

Races like Tough Mudder – long, long assault courses where men who work in offices run through fields whilst being beaten around the face and neck with rusty pieces of agricultural equipment – are a prelude to 2014’s biggest craze – the death race.

Tough Mudder

You have to pay actual British pounds to enter these races. They have waiting lists. I have no words.

I fully expect athletic events to appear where only one competitor can finish, having successfully killed or immobilised the rest of the competition. Participants will largely come from single, thwarted office workers in Reading and Guildford who are desperate to just feel anything again.

So, there you have it – 2014 is going to be a blast. Unless you’re taking the train.

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