Toilet Reading: Zoo

Tagline: ‘Britain’s Only Men’s Weekly!’

Price: £1.99

Who is this magazine for? The idea of gender-based magazines is a strange one, when you think about it. In these post-feminist times, there aren’t many areas of life that cheerfully segregate on the basis of chromosome ownership. The only everyday example I can think of is toilet assignment. Even that’s a distinction that can’t be very important, given the rule is frequently broken by nightclubs that boast of their questionably pretentious decor and a lower than average sick-to-carpet ratio. I’m also unaware of anybody who insists on having a separate room in their house with a stick-man picture on the door, fitted with a urinal and one of those automated air fresheners that mysteriously puff out scent (usually as I walk in, which may be an indication of my base-level aroma).

The heyday of Nuts, FHM and their ilk was in the late 90s. This was, lest we forget, a heady time where popular culture finally gave voice to the fact it wanted no scrubs, and made it extremely clear that if you wanna be my lover, you’ve gotta get with my friends.

Maybe it’s because of this barrier breaking that lad mags came about in the first place – feeding a desire from men to claim back a space that is theirs and theirs alone. Zoo was for those scrubs hanging out the right hand side of their best friend’s ride, scared men who needed somewhere to hide from all this sass. And when people get scared, they tend to find comfort in the familiar notes of their childhood. In the case of your common or garden man, that’s football, scabs, toys and, casting the psyche right back to the start, those lovely, reassuring breasts.

You know those terrible, lowest-common denominator birthday cards that you pick up and think, ‘who could possibly be so generic to happily buy or receive this folded sneer?’ Zoo is written for those people. Perhaps they’re in cahoots with Cards Galore.

What did you get for your £1.99? I’ve no wish to disparage the mag’s contributors, who spray adjectives like ‘stunner’ and ‘foxy’ around with a practiced tabloid hand, but I suspect that a majority of Zoo’s readers would be genuinely surprised to be told the purpose of those strange symbols that occasionally adorn the double-page spreads of women, cars, women, large dogs and women. By the way, rather brilliantly, Zoo’s offices are based in a place called Academic House.

The magazine is split in to four sections. ‘Upfront’, cunningly titled to allude to those lovely breasts, contains a ragbag of stuff that is, well, in the front half of the magazine. The second section, ‘Features’, is the journalistic meat in the sandwich, devoting no fewer than four pages to analysing the big issues of the day – specifically, the story of a bloke who got a Victoria Cross in Afghanistan, and some pictures of rich dogs on Instagram. The third, ‘Sport’, covers the hardy perennials of football, F1 and racing, nicely warming us up for the final section, ‘Girls’. There’s no editor’s column at the front of the mag and that’s a shame, because I’d have enjoyed reading whatever Father Jack had to say.

Dubai quarry

I’ve been to Dubai. There were definitely a lot less scree on the floor. Perhaps this is where the Qatar World Cup will be held.

Features: We know what we’re here for, so let’s just get straight on with ‘Girls’ shall we? Actually, let’s save ourselves, because Upfront kicks us off with some words from Billie Faiers, who is caught in Dubai for some spontaneous bikini shots. Billie is a bona fide star, having been in TOWIE (like HIV and AIDS, initials offer some protection from contemplating the full horror of TOWIE). Her star quality dominates the photos too, to the extent it makes the landscape around her not look like a Dubai beach, but more like the goods entrance of a working slate quarry.

 

Claudia Romani

A huge open goal miss on an ‘early bath’ pun opportunity here.

A few pages on are some lovely pictures of Claudia Romani sunning herself on a boat. She’s an Italian model-turned-football referee apparently, albeit one who has ‘yet to take charge of a professional match’. This seems like a generous characterization of her job to me. After all, by that definition, I’m also a football referee. So is Stephen Hawking. So is a lettuce.

Lettuce

Could still have done a better job than Phil Dowd.

 

Referee or not, Ms. Romani is definitely a girl. As is Ms. Faiers. So why aren’t they featured in the ‘Girls’ section? To find out, we need to head to the section in question.

‘Girls’ also has two features on women. But – and this is absolutely crucial – in their pictures they are not wearing their bikini tops. Hallelujah! Actual naked breasts! To be honest though, I feel that Zoo is getting the section names all wrong here. Why don’t they just call this section ‘Breasts’?

The only credible theory is that Zoo won’t class you as a ‘girl’ unless you prove it to them by baring at least some of your sexual organs. This could be seen as being deeply misogynistic, and even rather sinister on Zoo’s part. But think of it this way. Maybe they’ve had some crushing disappointments at photo shoots in the past. Maybe they’ve brought in the beautiful, blonde, 19-year old Mary, taken some very tasteful photos of her in a nice skirt and attractive blouse, only to find out later that when FHM got her in for a follow-up session ‘she’ revealed she was in fact the impeccably manicured Trent, a fish haulier from Podunk, Minnesota.

They felt cheated, and vowed never to take those hussies on trust again.

One thing I did learn from Zoo is that if you are a woman wearing not many clothes in a magazine shoot, you are only permitted one of three different facial expressions:

  • The ‘you’ve just me told me the thing I stepped in was the barbeque sauce you dropped when you came in from the pub.’
  • The ‘this look will get me that part as the new bitchy one in Eastenders.’
  • The ‘are we finished yet?’

Adverts: There aren’t many adverts in Zoo. There’s a double page of premium rate phone lines, which offer far more distressing thumbnails than you’d see in your average edition of Shooting Gazette or Heat (‘Best Sex Ever with GRANNIES’). Interestingly there are few gay chat lines in there as well, perhaps indicating that it’s not just the writers of Zoo who protesteth a little too much.

Much weirder is the ad for Zoo’s own ‘No Strings’ app, which is a full page devoted to a website for ‘finding cheeky nights of fun with girls who are looking for a little satisfaction.’ Pretty creepy whichever way you slice it, but then, I suppose it depends on what a little satisfaction means. Perhaps there are hundreds of women on there just waiting for a man to pop round with some TUC crackers, some Sainsbury’s pate and bottle of Blossom Hill, before indulging in a good competitive game of Uno.

Letters page: Zoo takes a different approach on the letters page, getting readers to send in jokes instead. This is actually a pretty good idea, given that the traditional letters page format relies on readers responding to previous articles. There are only so many ‘Waaaay, look at the tits on that,’ missives you could legitimately print every single week.

Here’s one: ‘Our local bin men must hate reversing their truck. But at least they bleep out all the swearing.’

Just on a tangent, apparently Jason Manford reads a lot of Zoo.

Rating: 4/10

Zoo fulfills a service. Some men have always needed to gawp at unattainable women while at the same time having enough distractions to help them forget their unattainability. It is very hard to imagine that need ever completely going away. Though sometimes, in my wilder moments, I dream of a freely accessible global technology that would allow me to access all the nudity that humanity has ever conceived of, while simultaneously looking at the football results and ordering a chicken biryani.

Until that happens, it’s hard to imagine Zoo going bust. Oh.

I waited a long time to use that bust joke.

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Toilet Reading: The Economist

Tagline: It doesn’t have one. The Economist is too mature for taglines.

Price: £5

Who is this magazine for? I’ve subscribed to The Economist for a while. If you asked me why, I’d find it difficult to give you a convincing answer. I might construct a laboured argument about it providing an international perspective you don’t get from the newspapers or the telly. I could contend that the fact it distils a week of news in a style well suited to the time-poor, effort-poor metropolitan lifestyle I claim to lead. But that wouldn’t really be true.

In fact, the reason I started buying The Economist was based on a lie. The mag, you see, has always boasted a jaunty front cover. Nothing funny in the sense that normal people would recognise by laughing, but at best gently satirical in a way that might be rewarded with an ‘aahhh’ and a round of applause from a Radio 3 audience.

The Economist cartoon

The funniest thing in this week’s Economist.

Marvellous, I thought, a substantial but humorous take on the week’s news. It might cost me a fiver, but what could be better for that seven-hour train journey? And then of course, you actually read the mag and realise it’s not funny at all. It’s not even trying! It’s like going on a Match date where the girl who claims to be into Daft Punk and boutique coffee, turns out to be primarily enthralled about her job in business process design.

The Economist has far higher aspirations than being a gag mag. This is a current affairs magazine that courts a readership of influence, doubtless with quite a lot of success. In my day job, I have met some important people, giving them the benefit of my keen insight as I hand them their change and Egg McMuffin.  What these movers and shakers want boils down to two things: to appear clever, and not to look stupid. In acting as both a scout and distiller, The Economist strives to serve them with both, albeit through the eyes of a 28-year old graduate economist who writes with the pen of a bewigged Victorian industrialist.

What did you get for your £5? The Economist has a well-worn roll call of articles. It kicks off with a rattle through the week’s top stories, invariably finishing with one which it considers to be on the ‘lighter side’. This edition’s fluff is riffing off references to ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ in relation to Uber, a link that accurately sets the magazine’s cultural compass at fifteen years before the present day.

Persistently sprinkled throughout The Economist are examples of what I’m afraid I’ll have to describe as intellectual whimsy – the kind of witticisms that  are written by people who are desperate to appear in dictionary of quotations one day. This crapulent behaviour tends to jar against the seriousness of the content. If, for example, a well-known hotel near Green Park were bought in a deal of questionable legality by the Russian head of state, the resultant Economist article would – without any shadow of a doubt – be titled ‘Putin on the Ritz’.

The news in brief is followed by a series of leader articles, with most of the magazine split along geographical lines: Britain, Europe, US, Asia, and so on. The mag concludes with finance, science, book reviews and some lovely data tables.

The Economist is venerable enough to have developed some admirable quirks, but two stand out. The first is the lack of bylines. In a digital age where the most inconsequential Buzzfeed guffpiece is accompanied by the gurning mugshot and Twitter handle of some jobbing hack, this is actually rather refreshing.

The second is a tendency to focus thoughtfully on things at the fringe of the public discourse – stuff like the decline of CCTV and the collapse of Argentina’s Kirchner administration – that you’re pleased that someone cares about, even if you can’t quite face reading 2,000 words about it.

Features: Unlike most of the other mags I’ve reviewed here, The Economist has a fairly clear political stance. Insofar as I understand it, libertarianism is the order of the day – smallish state, personal freedoms, big business is OK, and all that jazz.

That angle is applied with great confidence to the issues of the day. Europe is perpetually about to dive headlong down the toilet. Immigration, technology and free markets drive efficiency, so let’s not fiddle with them too much. And for Christ’s sake, let’s not do anything drastic – instability messes with stock portfolios and who wants that?

The problem with The Economist is that if you read it once, you’d think: ‘Goodness, they are smart people, and they’ve used numbers and everything. They must know what they’re talking about.’ The reality is the mag gets stuff wrong all the time. It confidently predicted Greece would leave the Euro. To date it has not, much to the disappointment of everyone who found a handful of drachmas in the crevice of an old suitcase.

In one piece about smartphones, the mag blithely predicts they will dominate global technology for years to come, even though the rise and fall of equally unstoppable PCs is shown on the very same page.

It’s not just bollocks as such – they get some things right too – but it is a function of The Economist’s tendency to follow trend lines with the self-assurance of the totally unaccountable. Being a confident conservative is a perfectly defensible position until things change. Problem is, that tends to happen quite a bit.

AdvertsThe Economist may be the only magazine I’ve read where the adverts are markedly less enticing than the articles. In keeping with their pitch to the ‘movers and shakers’ market, they tend to be for consultancies and investment companies.

The Economist advert

In this case, consultancies that help businesses who find they’ve accidentally ordered 400 of Godzilla’s toilet rolls.

The mag also runs quite a few job adverts. These tend to be for positions of such existential boredom that if you met the jobholder at a party, you would say ‘Oh! Right!.. Mmmm… Well. Say, have you tried the punch?’. Programme Officer, Technical Assistance Unit, I’m looking at you.

Letters pageThe Economist letters page serves one function – for self-important but irrelevant people to contribute their opinions. True of all letters pages you may say, but here the platform is given to those who once moved and shaked. Nobody really reads The Economist’s letters page, but it serves well as a retirement colony for former executives and senior public servants.

This week, the ‘British Ambassador to Russia from 2004 – 2008’, Sir Tony Brenton, gives his views on his former host nation. Or to put it in a shorter, more accurate way, a retired man enjoys a brief rant.

Rating: 7/10

Probably one of the UK’s best newspapers, The Economist has the self-confidence and wit of a polished student politician. And an equal amount of responsibility.

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Toilet Reading: Real People

Tagline: ‘Fab Stories!’

Price: 67p

Who is this magazine for? Sixty-seven pence is an odd price for a magazine. A strange price for anything, come to that. What costs 67p? Other than a well-judged bag of pick n’ mix and a small quantity of loose mushrooms hand-selected at the supermarket, it’s hard to think of many other things. So why is Real People being sold for such a precise fee?

price war, real people magazine

The poor bastards don’t realise that ‘Love It!’ is retailing at 65p.

The answer only becomes clear when the mag is sat next to shelf-mate Pick Me Up. Pick Me Up is an aggressively priced rag too, but pitched at a marginally less attractive 68p. It does not reflect well on the staff or readers of the mag that this suggests the following conversation happened at Real People HQ:

  • ‘The circulation war is getting serious. We’ve got a huge battle ahead at the 69p price point. What are we going to do?’
  • ‘Put more puzzles in?’
  • ‘No, the mag is almost entirely wordsearch-based as it is.’
  • ‘What about upping the nudity count?’
  • ‘Good idea Rodney, but boobs cost money, and I’ve heard the Pick Me Up editor is sexting that woman off Made In Chelsea. Let’s not start a war we can never hope to win.’
  • ‘What about writing some well-researched articles?’

*silence* *10 minutes pass*

  •  ‘Right, now that Hayley’s been fired, why don’t we cut the price by 2p with the money we’ve saved?’
  • ‘Brilliant. We can’t possibly lose. Those bastards at Prick Me Up will never squeeze more than a penny out of their margins.’

Real People is all about gossipy stories. These were once exchanged by middle-aged women over garden walls. Sadly, modern life has stripped those interactions away. But those same women still love a bargain and still yearn for that fix, even if they don’t go to their garden wall to get it because they’re too busy playing online bingo.

real people magazine, nagging

‘She’s a real nagger too Paula. I don’t know how her husband stands her. I told my Barry about it, but he wasn’t listening, as usual.’

What did you get for your 67p? Fab stories, that’s what. The ideal gossip mag story is one you can imagine gleefully telling about that gauche woman four doors down (‘Oh, Mrs Lar-dee-dar over there buys her milk from M&S Paula, it’s a bloody liberty.’). At a minimum, a good story should have your bingo-winged chums going ‘no!’ and ‘never!’ and ‘I always thought there was something odd about that couple, you know, but I don’t like to pry.’

The front cover provides an assortment of teasers that are a classic example of the gossip ragman’s art. Obviously, your common or garden gossip about divorces and HRT is a bit tame (unless it’s about celebrities of course, but that’s a different genre). So, Real People delivers juicier stuff – sex, violence and babies. In many ways, Real People is a reminder that different between the sexes is small; there’s plenty of common ground to be found on boobs, fights and psycho partners. Swap articles on cats for cars and you’ve got a ready-made male equivalent, which presumably is called Feel People.

Anyway, the front cover promises lurid tales of benefit-snatching toy boys, a women popping out kids faster than I can shell pistachios, a crazy husband fire-bombing a house, a man who was nagged out of a coma and a poor woman suffering from enormous breasts. I’m not a regular reader of Real People, but I’m willing to bet that in regard to the latter story, next month will feature a piece on a woman’s redemption from tiny breasts. It’s like the tides.

real people magazine

There are button mushrooms that could submit a successful entry to this competition.

Although the mag’s main stock is in stories, it’s offers a fine line in puzzles too. Real People is to be enjoyed as a break-time read, perhaps with a nice cuppa, and it generously offers no fewer than twelve brainteasers to help you pass the time. Cash prizes are offered for all of these, an offer that looks especially generous when you consider that a) the mag costs less than a quid and b) a typical question is: ‘Which Michael Jackson album is the biggest selling of all time? A) Thriller B) Chiller.’

This question is on a page where the word ‘Thriller’ is mentioned no fewer than seven times.

Features: The stories in Real People are a roller-coaster ride through the human condition. Unfortunately, it’s one of the those roller-coasters that you get at travelling fairs where the safety bars don’t really come down over your shoulders and the carts smell strongly of horse.

A key detail about Real People is that the protagonists are paid for their stories. Up to a grand, according to the front page. The fact that these women were desperate enough for a cheque to give up their tales to the slavering gossip hounds is pretty depressing. Personal traumas laid bare for a few hundred quid so people can tut and snigger over a Nescafe.

real people magazine

For someone with acute body image issues, these are suspiciously well shot photos.

But still, rule one of gossip mags applies to Real People: the actual story is far less exciting than the front cover would have you believe. In the case of the coma-curing nagger, the medical evidence for a link between mithering and treatment of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis remains inconclusive. That woman did have really big boobs though, so I can’t fault the journalism there. 36NNN apparently, which doesn’t sound so much like a cup size as the straining noise the support bra must have made, poor woman.

Adverts: Adverts are pretty thin on the ground in Real People. I’d have bet good money that those zany people at Gala Bingo would be in there – it’s hard to imagine an easier market segment for them to hit – but the four adverts in the mag’s paltry 50 pages were for shampoo, other magazines (about soaps, which I suppose is essentially the same premise as Real People but for Not Real People), rice that possesses a magic slimming effect (possibly because it resembles sick), and a creepy bracelet.

I enjoyed the creepy bracelet very much because it reminded me of the mocking adverts for useless toot that Viz does. The ‘For My Son’ bracelet looked about as appealing as the ‘Life of Christ in Cats’ plate set, right down to their Pay Nothing Now promise. This is naturally followed by mysterious multiple payment installments and ambitious P&P costs. All in all, your proud, God-fearing mother would be shelling out £66.96 for something you could probably pick up at Argos for a fiver.

The bracelet was so good, in fact, that I decided to hasten to the website of Bradford Exchange, the company unabashedly flogging this stuff. They have been selling arse for ‘over 40 years’ apparently, and good for them.

Letters page: There’s not that much call for a dedicated letters page in Real People, as the entire magazine is basically one big letters page.

Real People

Poor kid can’t even answer back, the monsters.

However, a vague effort is made at the start of the magazine, which offers comedy news in brief interspersed with a sprinkling of missives and photos for readers seeking out the 25 quid payday on offer.

Some people have taken their enthusisasm for £25 to the point of exploiting children that aren’t even their own.

Rating: 8/10

Hell is Real People. But at 67p, who’s complaining?

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Toilet Reading: Treasure Hunting

Tagline: ‘Britain’s Best Selling Metal Detecting Magazine’

Price: £3.85

Who is this magazine for? It doesn’t get much more romantic than buried treasure, does it? Sailing the high seas with men of questionable haircare choices. Racing the tides and moustache-twirling baddies hellbent on seizing your haul. Following a map that displays no more than a childlike grip on the intricacies of cartography (why don’t treasure maps ever include contour lines or a reasonable key?). This is the stuff of heroic tales, myths and legends. Treasure Hunting is for those who live life to the full.

Ah no, wait. It’s actually about plodding across a muddy field, wielding a strange plastic implement that resembles a hoover.

I was under the impression that all buried treasure was the property of the Crown – if you bag yourself a haul of coins, you are obliged to give them up to the police. Admittedly this knowledge was based entirely on the plot of a Roald Dahl short story, a tale included in the same collection as one which convinced me that, with enough training, you could see through playing cards by looking at them really, really hard.

However, the very existence of Treasure Hunters proves once again that the knowledge I so carefully accumulated during my childhood is so much bollocks. This is obviously a mag for people whose previous financial strategies – playing the Lottery, crossing their fingers, looking at playing cards really, really hard – have failed.

Disappointingly, treasure hunters have apparently decided to refer to themselves as ‘detectorists’. I would have thought ‘detectives’ would have been far less cumbersome, but then again, these may be people who wish to avoid attracting any attention from the police.

What did you get for your £3.85? The big giveaway that Treasure Hunters is for those literally seeking paydirt is that the magazine is full of adverts. At least a quarter of the magazine’s pages are given over to glossy double page spreads, extolling the virtues of one particular type of plastic hoover over another. And nobody is more likely to make an unwise investment in an expensive prop than someone who is completely convinced they’re a few hours of light wafting away from life-changing financial salvation. It’s like fat people and tracksuits.

The second giveaway is on the contents page (page 7, following six pages of ads), where the bottom third is given over to a fairly brazen offer: ‘Celtic hoards, large or small, we love them all. And we pay cash.’ The hoards in this case are coins, by the way, not massed ranks of Iceni warriors.

Elsewhere in the mag we find a news and views section, which brings tell of a new detector showroom opening at the Orchard Business Park, Kingsclere, a location that I imagine will not draw a great deal of passing trade. Treasure Hunters also offers a healthy sprinkling of features about various digs, a kit review, the dreaded club and rally round-up with WI level’s of trifling detail, and a how-to guide on building your own sand scoop. The latter is written by a Mr Beach, someone who is either impeccably qualified or who is working under a pseudonym. Perhaps his real name is Terry I’ve Never Made A Sand Scoop In My Life.

Treasure Hunting

You’d certainly be ready to hit Mr. Beach.

Features: The magazine’s writers make a decent fist of trying to make digging holes exciting. Nevertheless, there is a feeling through Treasure Hunters that quite a lot of effort is being put in to stretch it all to an acceptable length. The aforementioned sand scoop guide has 31 instruction steps, more than an Ikea sofa. This seems on the excessive side for an implement that is, when all’s said and done, a cup on a stick.

In a feature explaining how to get started on a tight budget, a balding man explains his move from Lotto tickets to detecting. After purchasing a cheapo hoover, the size of his finds steadily builds up; a quid in a bush, some small bits of copper, a silver sixpence from 1697, before building to his biggest haul – the fee for writing 700 words in Treasure Hunter magazine. Success!

Treasure Hunting

Useful insight here, just in case you’d forgotten in all the excitement what a tree was.

Adverts: Advertisers have to work pretty hard in the metal detecting game, because when all’s said and done, they only equipment you need to own to qualify as a bone fide treasure hunter is a spade. In fact, I suppose you don’t even need that. A pair of functioning limbs that allow you to scrabble about in dirt or sand would probably be plenty.

Additional tools – metal detectors, pinpointers, sand scoops, all the rest of it – are there to make you slightly more efficient in your digging, and therefore infinitesimally more likely to find something. The snag is that there’s a whole bunch of surface area out there. Regardless of how much you spend on those technological aids, buying a metal detector is a bit like giving a budding astronomer a pair of glasses.

That isn’t to say that there are plenty of companies out there having a good go at convincing you otherwise.

Treasure Hunting

Disgusting.

The language used to sell metal detectors is slightly unnerving to somebody new to the field. Deep, fast, vibrate alert, ribbed anti slip design – all common phrases, all guaranteed to make most of the advert achieve Carry On Detecting heights when measured on the widely-recognised Fnarr Index. On the demand side of the market, artefact buyers tend to go in to for the capital letters, block colours and anonymous email addresses combination that may imply a less than cordial relationship with HMRC.

Letters page: Treasure Hunters gives over a healthy two pages to readers. The star letter took up a full page, something I’d normally baulk at. However, in this case it was from a bloke who had woken up from a coma, taken up treasure hunting and found a gold ring.

Good on you Paul. Although the sentence ‘it was just great to be outdoor swinging low and slow’ gives no clear indication of whether you happened to be metal detecting at the time.

Rating: 7/10

I think it’s a wonderful thing that there are still many people out there living the dream of finding pieces of eight. It’s also been nice to write a blog with the word artifact in it, a term I thought I’d waved goodbye to after completing my GCSE History exam.

Detectorists, keeping following your hopes, but stop throwing all your money at all these shysters. Invest in a pack of playing cards instead.

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Toilet Reading: Magazine Writing

Tagline: ‘Helping you get published for 25 years’ (I’ll bet the editorial team agonised over the fact this tagline can be interpreted in at least three different ways.)

Price: £3.85

Who is this magazine for? Some people see writing as art, an expression of the aesthetic divine through words. To them a page of Dostoievsky or Joyce sends echoes through the soul like the contours of Rodin or symphonies of Haydn.

Others see writing as a craft. To them it’s about being good with your hands and whittling yourself a nice wooden spoon. As a rule Magazine Writing is for the latter. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Magazine Writing is for aspiring writers who crave that warm feeling of seeing their byline, but haven’t quite made it yet. That might feel like an unfair assumption to make, but I would guess that really successful writers – those that make money and grace the pages of Your Chickens and Shooting Gazette – don’t have the time to read a mag for tips every month. The ugly truth could be that it’s actually more accurate to call the mag Magazine Readers.

Magazine Writing

Melvyn needs his hair back at the shop by 6:30.

But Magazine Writing is not for people who can’t write. Perish the thought. As the opening advice from editor Jonathan Telfer – a vaguely angry looking man who appears to have borrowed Melvyn Bragg’s hair – makes clear, 2015 should not be about getting better at writing. No, it’s time for a new project or new style. That style change could be from bilge to something good, for example.

And if you can’t be arsed with that, he says, why not try mucking in at a literary festival? As Jonathan sagely asks, ‘Are there events for children? If not, organise some.’ There’s really nothing that organising committees love more than a stranger demanding to take a hands-on role with small children as part of their event.

Just by the by, how meta is this? I’m, like, totally doing some writing about a magazine called Magazine Writing. Just imagine if I was doing some magazine writing about Magazine Writing in a magazine

Magazine Writing

Probably should have read this, for your benefit. Didn’t.

What did you get for your £3.85?  It’s not a huge surprise to find that Magazine Writing errs on the wordy side. As a general rule for this blog, I try to read the whole magazine before dumping on it. I have to admit I couldn’t manage that this time. Clearly I will never be a magazine writer.

In terms of word count value the mag over-delivers, with thirty odd articles, no filler pictures and squinty font. Read all of it and you’ll feel like a virtuous writer, even if the only thing you’ve written that day is a note informing your flatmate he’s a prick for eating your leftover curry.

The articles are broken down into multiple sections, with fiction, poetry and non-fiction all getting their own bits. There’s also plenty of competitions and a fair sprinkling of regular features, along with a separate section of literary festival listings.

Magazine Writing

Sad to see those trysts with Piglet coming home to roost.

Oddly, there’s also ‘Writers’ News’, an apparently separate publication wedged into the middle of the mag. Writers’ News is mostly full of writers plugging their recent tomes. It was my favourite part of the whole package though, purely on the grounds that it featured a council meeting in Poland that erupted into harrowed disagreement over Winnie the Pooh. Apparently, old Pooh’s ‘inappropriate clothing’ and ‘dubious sexuality’ raised questions as to his suitability for children, not least the clear anatomical evidence that suggested he could be a ‘hermaphrodite’. If Writers’ News continues to break this kind of story, you can sign me up right away.

Features: Bringing the Pooh-based enjoyment down a notch is the distinctly ‘having your cake and eating it’ Magazine Writing message. On the one hand, the guidance is clear: every writer must develop their own style and go their own way. On the other, the mag is full of modestly successful authors shamelessly flaunting their victories, with the strong implication you should listen to them.

A typical passage from an article on ‘the dating game’ of authorship:

‘I maintain a full writing CV that lists all my books published to date,’ says Suzanne, although she no longer lists every article published, because there are so many.’

Yeah, Christ, having to write down all your many successes in the ‘metaphysical, country and folklore genre’ (oh dear) must be such a bore Suzanne. This kind of puffery isn’t exclusive to Suzanne by the way. Humble brag seeps across the pages like fat on a napkin.

There’s also a sense that Magazine Reader’s writers generally consider the budding authors who buy their articles to be as thick as pigshit. In a long piece explaining how to get the most out of a writing course, Simon Hall recommends that nervous first-timers prioritise ‘knowing both the location and room’, ‘taking notes’, and ‘keeping in touch with people afterwards’.

Adverts: There are lots, almost exclusively for writing courses. Th of the kind where you have to pay considerable sums of money to a man in a flowery shirt who once got a short story published in an unpopular anthology.

I went on a travel writing course once. The teacher, who I’ll call Rodney even though that wasn’t his real name, spent most of the six evening classes complaining about Internet commenters who were dumping hard on his son’s Guardian column. ‘They keep saying it’s nepotism!’ he cried, failing to acknowledge that this was a) likely to be true and b) a fantastic learning experience for a young writer in the 21st century. If he can’t hack a load of strangers calling him a spawny twat, he may as well give up now.

Letters page: There are loads of letters in Magazine Writing, which proves if nothing else that procrastination is a big problem affecting readers.

Many correspondents bring to bear their grievances with self-publishing, which seems to be the great debate of the age. The tone of the letters finally kills off that old chestnut of authors yearning to ‘be published’. It’s a big fat lie. When you can publish your masterpiece for free, spilling your literary soul is a piece of piss, even if it is in 99.9999% of cases a matter of total indifference to the world. No, what authors want is attention and money. Does self-publishing achieve this? Very occasionally yes. Mostly no. You know, just like ‘publishing’.

Rating: 6/10

As I’m not going to pay to enter my unrhymed couplet in the magazine’s competition for the chance of a £150 prize, you can have it for free:

‘The stem of the flower leans gently in the breeze,

You can piss off if you think I’m paying five pounds.’

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Toilet Reading: Practical Motorhome

Tagline: ‘Tour smarter. Go further. Live your dreams.’ (Best. Tagline. Ever.)

Price: £3.99

Who is this magazine for? It’s hard to answer this question, as you don’t often get to see the people who buy motorhomes. That’s because you’re either stuck behind them, longing for some masked bandits to descend on the roof with the bags of tar and feathers, or speeding past them so fast their faces are a blur.

Practical Motorhome

Good to see Philip Schofield is a motorhome fan.

I’ve never actually been in a motorhome before. I’ve seen plenty of them, mostly from the rear, puttering down country lanes. The main reason to buy a motorhome, apart from getting the chance to experience the heady whiff of chemical toilets on a regular basis, is obviously to fulfil long-held fantasies of leading a parade. That parade might be comprised of angry people calling you a zip-locked bastard, but hey and excuse me, a parade is a parade.

Incidentally, magazines in general seem to love the adjective Practical. This feels like a massive missed opportunity here. I, for one, would much prefer to flick through a copy of Whimsical Motorhome.

What did you get for your £3.99?  Practical Motorhome is split in to four sections: Talk (letters from readers and a subscriptions advert that is emphatically not ‘Talk’), Travel (accounts of trips made in various behemoths), Advice (what to do when your motorhome isn’t broken down) and Tested (lots of reviews).

Practical Motorhome

Motor-van? Di-van?

‘Talk’ features correspondence from people who feel the need to name their motorhome. This is something I struggle to understand. I don’t know of anybody who would call a house Elsa or Monty. So why bother for your house on wheels? Clearly, Practical Motorhomes is for the truly committed trundler. By committed, I mean people who for some reason feel passionate about the correct use of an apostrophe to correctly describe a ‘van. My ignorance is such that I’m not clear what word the apostrophe is being used to cover for here. ‘Camper’, perhaps. Or ‘Sad’.

Practical Motorhome

Another meat fridge on wheels, ruining the view.

The tone of the mag is chipper, with exclamation marks sprinkled with a happy abandon. Alongside some wordy but well-written features and letters full of sentences like ‘The Esprit and Bessacarr 494 and 462 willl not get a side exterior locker door,’ you’ll find a good spread of pictures showing large tin boxes despoiling beautiful landscapes. Here, at last, the appeal of living in a motorhome becomes clear. It’s the only place you can sit and admire the splendid view without finding it obscured by a ‘van.

Towards the back of Practical Motorhome the pleasant travelogue pieces recede to be replaced by the heavy breathing section – hot young ‘vans, waiting for your pension pot. Your bog-standard ‘van, which is to say, one with wheels, some gas hobs and all the pine-effect laminated chipboard you could ever want, will set you back in the region of 25 grand second hand. Your Elysian, a 9.1-metre beast at the top end of the market, will cost you £165,000 on the road. You might argue that’s more than a family house in some parts of the country, but I would counter that the Elysian would piss all over that in terms of miles per gallon.

Features: When it comes down to it, the first half of Practical Motorhome is a travel magazine. Sure, Clare Kelly ‘loves travelling by motorhome’ through Portugal, but in an article long enough to wedge in a couple of paragraphs on custard tarts there’s bugger all mention of her trusty Auto-Sleeper Kingham until the very end, where it’s mentioned in passing that the ‘van is ‘fabulous’.

Donna Garner’s piece on Spain is similarly quiet about the wheels, at least until one night, when a 5am leak pisses rainwater all over their bed. Donna and her husband have to cut the tour short. To me, this sounds like the typical description of life with a motorhome. A pleasant trip, rudely interrupted by the startling realization that you’re in a motorhome.

This impression is strengthened by the second half of the mag, and a glance at the advice section. This is seven full pages dedicated to helping readers out when their ‘van shits the bed. It starts with advice from Gentleman Jack, who responds to a reader’s query as to whether to purchase a classic Fiat camper off eBay by saying – I paraphrase only slightly – ‘for Christ’s sake don’t, it will ruin your life.’

Adverts: Clare and Donna’s cushy little trips have to be subsidized somehow, so Practical Motorhome carries plenty of advertising.

Practical Motorhome

Lolz.

Most of this is exactly what you would expect – ‘vans, and various sites to plug ‘vans in. Even in the adverts however, something’s off. Towbars, insurance, greasy men who want to buy your used motorhome and sell it on for big, big prices; there’s still this vague sense of unreliability lurking under the covers.

The adverts also reveal how owning a motorhome requires (or forces you to develop) a warped sense of comfort. In a box titled ‘Unrivalled luxury…’ found on a double page spread for the rather sexy Auto-Sleepers models, the marketeers work their magic, boasting of a gearbox, a window, a colour-coded front bumper and mud flaps. You know, like a car.

Letters page: Practical Motorhome treats their readers properly and puts the letters right at the front. Unfortunately it undoes all that good work by offering the star letter a prize of Milenco leveling ramps.

The letters are the usual ragbag of stuff praising the mag and its principal advertisers, complaints, and shout-outs for nice stops (including one in Oldham, which seems highly unlikely). Nice to see a bit of spice about the Scottish independence referendum creeping in though, with one reader calling out our old friend Clare for whipping up anti-Caledonian feelings. I imagine the Scots are generally fans of the motorhome. It’s a great way of avoiding visitors.

Rating: 8/10

I liked Practical Motorhome. Parts of it really did make me want to feel the wind in my hair, to travel free and easy as a wanderer across Europe’s sunnier shores this winter.

All I need to do now is pack my towbar, bed, gas, toilet, cushions, fuel, warning triangle, awning, clothes, passport, insurance, generator, CO2 alarm, insulation screen, LED lights, torch, snow chains, BBQ, blind, solar panels, bike rack, and bike into my enormous leaky car.

Footloose and fancy free.

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Toilet Reading: Ireland’s Own

Tagline: ‘Ireland’s Favourite Magazine for over 100 years’

Price: £1.20

Who is this magazine for? Despite its capital being less than an hour from London, my mental image of the Emerald Isle is pretty much just hazy caricatures. Shamrocks, Guinness and begorrah. Perched happily beside this casual racism on the brain shelf marked ‘Eire’ is a shamefully shallow pool of real knowledge. I think the Irish Prime Minister is called a Tea Sack. And thanks to an administrative error, I believe Ireland was briefly obliged to win the Eurovision Song Contest on a biannual basis by European law.

Ireland's Own

2015 winner of the coveted ‘Most Irish comparative fact’ award.

My only other points of reference are Irish comics like Dara O’Briain and Dylan Moran. The latter once described the rapid transformation of Dublin in the late ‘90s from a place where ‘people styled their hair with buttermilk,’ to an urbane, swish metropolis ‘where everyone is going out with someone call Fujuvia.’

Ireland’s Own is for people who still live in buttermilk Ireland. Villages where the fields are forever full of Athenry, and small towns of piano key teeth and comb-overs, where people ring the pub to order their Guinness forty-five minutes before arriving. The equivalent of a Sunday Express supplement, this mag is for dependably elderly middle Ireland, yearning nostalgically for the green, green past of home.

What did you get for your £1.20? You get 64 pages for a start, which rivals guffrag Heat for sheer value. Granted, the paper quality is noticeably lower than you’d find in glossy gossip mag. It has that grainy feel of the cheap bog roll you’d find in a rural pub toilet. But if it’s good enough for Private Eye, it’s good enough for Ireland’s Own.

Five thousand issues gives you plenty of opportunity to build up a strong stable of regular features, and Ireland’s Own doesn’t disappoint on this front. Along with your standard fare – the editor’s intro, puzzles, a couple of columnists – there are some fascinating innovations to be found. Who can’t fail to thrill at ‘Catch The Criminal’, a short story with a crime you have to solve? What about the charming ‘Song Words’, which includes lyrics to recent pop hits like ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ (released 1971), ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ (released 1960) and ‘Johnson’s Motor Car’ (let’s hope never released)? Or perhaps ‘Irish Wildlife’, which this week takes an in-depth look at bladder wrack, which turns out to be a species of seaweed rather than a urinary tract complaint.

Ireland's Own

No.

There are also some longer pieces alongside the regulars. In every single one – and there are eight – maudlin hangs over the words like fag smoke in a snooker club. In case you don’t believe me, this is the current status of the main subject in each article: war with many dead, war with even more dead, dead, dead, extremely old, dying, closed down, dead.

Features: The morose tone is set on the first inside page by the editor Cassidy’s opening column, which is titled ‘Disappointments’. To his credit, Cassidy doesn’t go for the typical ego-massaging photograph next to his byline. In the debit column, he has been drawn by an artist who depicts a face with a distinctly scrotal appearance and wearing what is unmistakably a cow pat on his head.

Ireland's Own

Or possibly, as more careful study suggests, a series of three separately layered pats.

Cassidy gently jibes at the consumerist society and the ‘curse of comparison’, and says that he is ‘coming round to the idea that feeling content in your own skin…is worth more than any posh or expensive addendum,’ which is a particularly mature attitude for someone who has just been painted as a ballbag.

I hoped a happier note would be struck by John Corbett’s article on his memories (natch) of New Year celebrations in the countryside. Unfortunately, his article is afflicted both by the same sense of depression (‘we, in this country, seem destined to experience an endless series of recessions that force so many of our people to go abroad for a living.’) He also suffers from inverted comma incontinence. A superb example of this turns up in paragraph three, where John says of a New Year’s dance ‘even those with ‘two left feet’, felt obliged to ‘take the floor’.’ I was grateful for the guiding punctuation marks here, otherwise I would have immediately brought to mind the macabre spectacle of unsteady, reveling freaks ripping up the linoleum as a common feature of Irish Hogmanay parties.

But it’s not all sad news. The Marjorie’s Kitchen column defies the urge to throw off stereotypes and makes potato the core ingredient of her soup recipe. There’s a whole page of unfunnies under the banner of ‘the lilt of Irish Laughter’. And rather sweetly, the lonely hearts column at the back is called ‘Penfriends’.

More than anything else, Penfriends serves as a reminder that Ireland is not just Britain with blarney. It truly is a foreign country. I’ve certainly never seen the acroynms RC (Roman Catholic), TT (teetotal) or CW (Country-Western) on a UK dating page before. One advert is worth reproducing in full:

Dublin Man, 52, prays to God in silence, loves Dolly Parton, French language, card tricks, reading, water, milk, porridge, fresh air, long walks, St Bernard dogs, wlthf ladies in Ireland.’

It starts well and just gets better doesn’t it? You’re not going to lose any hesitant partners by professing your love of milk, so I reckon that’s a pretty strong move. I really hope the guy gets a few letters.

Adverts: The adverts with prime space next to the editor set the tone for all the rest – memorial cards (oh dear), stairlifts (mmm), and a device to fend off dogs called a ‘Dazzer’ – which I’m going to assume is an entrepreneurial response to a load of tasers falling off the back of a Garda lorry. In a rather revealing indication of the average reader’s mental alertness, the same Dazzer advert appears again on page 7. In case you had forgotten it from four pages earlier.

Ireland's Own

The Home Visit Low Vision Service does penis enlargement treatments as well.

Elsewhere, there’s quite a lot of stuff that looks suspiciously like bollocks targeted towards to the hard of mind. The usual dodgy self-publishing scams are there, but this magnifier  is a piece of snake oil genius.

Letters page: Not much in the way of letters, other than a couple in the Ask Pete section – posers to put to Ireland’s Own resident vet, Pete Wedderburn. Pete provides considerate replies to Eileen and Aileen’s stillborn pup and cat moulting worries.

Coincidentally, stillborn pups and cat moulting are the two subjects most lacking in comedic value.

Rating: 5/10

Ireland’s Own is obviously not written for me; I’m not Irish, and I’m not old. Nonetheless, I feel I’ve come away from it with a deeper understanding of Ireland’s troubled, nostalgic psyche. As well as a much clearer sense of why their young people leave.

Let’s finish with a joke from ‘The lilt of Irish Laughter’.

– “That’s an awful looking horse.”

       —  “I call him Flattery.”

– “Why do you call him that?”

       —  “Because he gets me nowhere.”

Grand.

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Toilet Reading: Total Guitar

Tagline: Play Better Now!

Price: £5.50

Who is this magazine for? This magazine is for me when I was 17. Which is to say, a profoundly average guitarist with more talented mates.

Total Guitar

Stuart, the editor, trying to pour cold water on the old ‘rhythm vs. lead’ debate.

I bought a few issues of Total Guitar because my great and talented friend Andrew York did so. In our depressing jam sessions, he knocked out the chords to ‘Long Train Running’ and ‘Nightrain’ like one mean-ass (subs: does mean-ass have a hyphen?) son of a bitch, while I scraped out Under the Bridge intros with all the gentle sass of Chopin’s Funeral March. Eventually it became necessary to reduce the frequency of these humiliating sessions through any available excuse; illness, sore fingers, unlikely enthusiasm for watching Yorkie play Myst for up to 14 years at a single sitting. Myst, by the way, is a puzzle-based computer game designed, in my view, to highlight the comparative thrill of tax returns.

The mag, I assumed, would hold the answers to my redemption and seamlessly paper over my cracks of incompetence. Unfortunately, as Yorkie later pointed out, all Total Guitar’s pages guaranteed was the appearance of the phrase ‘warm, jazzy tones’ at least once in every edition of the magazine. My own playing failed to scale any heights beyond the bovine dexterity required of Green Day’s Basket Case. But twelve years on, I was keen to see whether that warmth and jazziness had been retained.

Just as an aside though, why are magazines so keen on the word ‘Total’? I for one would like to see a lot more ‘Utter’ on the shelves of WHSmiths. Although in this particular case, perhaps Utter Guitar sounds a little too much like a province of northwestern India.

What did you get for your £5.50? £5.50 is a lot of money for a magazine, but Total Guitar’s publishers know well enough that your typical guitarist is used to paying handsomely over the odds. This is a hobby where your plank of wood with strings on it will probably set you back at least £400, unless you plan on being gently patronised by the blokes in the music shop and actively laughed at by greasy-haired teenagers. And you’ll need an amp. And a new set of strings every few months. Effects pedals as well, to get your wah and fuzz on. Even your plectrums – tiny bits of plastic that a non-player would think were litter if they found one on the floor – are a quid a time.

Steeply priced the mag may be, it does come with a free gift – a natty CD of ‘essential rhythm techniques’. The mag itself is split into four sections; Monitor (a mixed bag), Features (longer versions of Monitor), Gear (reviews) and Techniques (more hardcore drills, and what I’m afraid I’m going to call ‘licks’). There is a pleasingly genuine emphasis on learning how to get better throughout Total Guitar; PR guff about bands this is not.

Or at least, not overwhelmingly. Dave Grohl appears on page ten, as he has in every single one of Total Guitar’s 262 issues. As much as I like his hairy face, the man’s a drummer, for pete’s sake. Get him out.

Features: The meat and drink of Total Guitar’s features fall in to three categories: stuff about bands, stuff about guitars and things required to make them sound totally awesome, and lessons. The latter is the least interesting, partly because it’s educational and therefore intrinsically a hard sell to a failure like myself. More damningly, it’s also because you tend to find phrases like ‘we’re in pure Mixolydian territory’ or ‘generating diatonic 6th intervals’, terms that sound like things a pressed obstetrician might shout during a challenging childbirth.

The articles about bands are designed to make you feel like you’ve been trapped in conversation with that guy in Sixth Form that stopped listening to Elbow and Radiohead as soon as they produced songs that tediously normal people listened to for pleasure. Radio Alcatraz anyone? Pale Seas? I’m sure they’re both excellent, but I only listen to new music when I hear it on adverts. Of the artists included in the ‘Top 20 albums of 2014’, I recognize seven, one of whom is Pink Floyd, a band with members substantially older than my dad.

It’s probably unfair to accuse the mag of band snobbery though; the problem may simply be one of pulling power. For example, I find it hard to imagine there being high fives around the editorial room at the announcement that Total Guitar had bagged a three-page exclusive interview with some bloke who used to be in Feeder.

The kit features were where I held out most hope for finding some warm and jazzy quotes. Sadly none could be found. And like much of the magazine, there was no criticism for anything here. Any gentle negatives were qualified, and nothing dipped below four stars.

They had their opportunity to dump hard too, reviewing three Squire models. Who knows, maybe these guitars really were worth every one of their four or five stars, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Argos sells Squires. I would have severe misgivings about giving any stars to the Elizabeth Duke of axes.

Adverts: As you would expect, Total Guitar goes in pretty hard on ads for beautiful pieces of wood at comedy prices. A Fender Strat from the 60s – with stains and a scuffed up finish no less – will set you back what you might expect to pay for a second-hand family car.

Midge Ure

From his expression, I’m not even that sure Midge is going to buy one.

Elsewhere is a half page devoted to flogging the Midge Ure signature model guitar. Poor old Midge. Just getting over being named after a microscopic Scottish irritant is tough enough, but having to be the straight man to Bob Geldof for thirty years is a kick in the stones that no man should have to endure. Sadly, his guitar is one that I find pretty hard to imagine the next generation of rockers clamouring for.

Letters page: Total Guitar spoils us with no less than two letters pages. The first, ‘Feedback’, is your standard grab bag of moans that make the mag look good (‘Where’s my precious TG mag? WTF is going on at Tesco?!’) and paeans to readers’ guitar heroes. Johnny Marr gets a shout-out, accompanied by a picture of him looking like a model from Man at C&Angry.

The second, ‘Ask TG’, is a guitarist’s spin on the classic problem page. Rather than the usual fodder of erectile dysfunction and errant partners, this deals with more technical problems, such as how to avoid falling into playing the tired old Phrygian mode during metal songs. We’ve all been there.

Brilliantly though, the style is still basically still the same as a normal problem page, from the embarrassed, despairing air of the correspondent (‘I’ve been working on my alt-picked riffing for a while, and I feel like I’m getting nowhere’) to the sympathetic but forthright responses (‘we’d advise you use a firm pick – bendy picks tend to flap about’). Change no more than a few words and you’re right back in erectile dysfunction country.

Rating: 9/10

Total Guitar is still doing what it did in my youth; slick, well-informed work that makes me feel lazy and inadequate.

Bring back the warm and jazzy tones and I might just pick up my Les Paul again.

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Toilet Reading: Wedding Cakes

Tagline: The ultimate guide to choosing your wedding cake.

Price: £4.99

Who is this magazine for? You’re getting married – congratulations! Here, take this spade. What you need to do is dig a good-sized hole, say about two feet wide and four feet deep, and put all your money in it. If you can, try and put some other people’s money in it too; family, friends, it doesn’t really matter.

Now douse it all in flammable liquid – petrol is good, but brandy for fancy – and light it, with each of you holding a white candle to the notes until the flames reach a good height. Et voila! You’ve saved yourselves a year or more of organising strife.

Alternatively, you can buy the Wedding Cakes magazine. Because who hasn’t been to a wedding of a close family member or friend and thought, ‘You know, that wedding could have been a touching celebration of their love and a privilege to share with them, but unfortunately, I’ll never, ever forget that their cake was cagwazz*.’

What did you get for your £4.99? Wedding Cakes gets off to a confusing start, with the opening page proudly stating that the mag has been ‘published a month earlier so you can see all the trends for the season ahead.’ A month earlier than what?

massive wedding cake

This is actually a Russian roulette cake. One of the tiers is made of dog shit. But which?

Leaving time-travel to one side, the very first picture gives clear indication of what to expect. This cake has 7 tiers, three bunches of flowers and is tall enough to be a supporting pillar for an especially camp summerhouse. It also looks as appetising as a supporting pillar for an especially camp summerhouse. These are cakes that have gone way beyond trying to appeal to the traditional senses of taste and feel, instead focusing entirely on the look, and, who knows, maybe the sound of their glorious presence. Under no circumstances are these cakes designed to see the inside of your colon.

Despite the tagline, it is important to be aware that Wedding Cakes is not actually a guide to choosing your wedding cake.  It certainly doesn’t answer my pressing cake related enquiries. Is buttercream icing passé? Stacking how many tiers would constitute showing off like a prick? Must you use traditional cake mixture, or are other types of cake acceptable, such as urinal?

No, it is just hundreds of cake pictures. Possibly thousands.

Features: There is some occasional respite from the resplendant waves of cake. In the ‘Get The Look’ section, we find out achieving that ornate, gilded rococo look is simply a matter of slapping on quite a lot of delicious ‘warm brown paste food colour’, edible glue and dust food. Was that a chorus of ‘mmm’s’ I heard out there? I think so.

ornament cake, wedding cake magazine

This one is filled with delicious chunks of porcelain.

Turning this yummy combination into a wedding cake is explained overleaf. This process is expected to happen over a period of four days, which is more time than I’ve spent in some full-time jobs.

The ingredients are split into two sections; edibles (eight items, which include – and I’m quoting directly here – ‘cakes’) and equipment (over 20 items, taking up most of the page and including things like celbuds, foam mat and a ‘ball tool’). The timeline provides another clue as to what these cakes are really for. ‘First half of day 1 – bake cakes. Days 1, 2, 3 and 4 – spend 84 hours turning cakes into furniture.’ Total number of instruction steps – thirty-six. Total number of these steps related to baking edible cake – zero.

real wedding photos

This is what a real wedding looks like. If yours did not look like this, IT WAS NOT REAL.

Elsewhere, we have a ‘real wedding’ story where blushing bride Emily mentions the urns decorating the reception room the same number of times as her husband’s name (he’s called Ernie). There’s also a guide on how to create a ‘wonderful woodland theme’ on your big day. Paraphrasing only slightly, this guide consists of three tips; use berries in your cake, try and get some wood on the table, use a table.

What else? Ah yes, more pictures of cake.

Adverts: Flicking through the mag turns up suspiciously regular mentions of a company called ‘Squires Kitchen’. I’m willing to believe that the premium cake decorating market is fairly small, but Squires does seem to have a finger in every one of the elegant pies on offer.

wedding cake magazine, squires kitchen

I’m on to you, Squires.

There it is on the back cover. Here it is featured in all three of the recipes. And here’s the subject of the ‘meet the designer’ section, giving SK’s flower paste a totally unplanned shout out as the cake decorating item she’d would take to a desert island.

Her opinion is to be taken with a pinch of dust food however, partly because she attempts to explain what a mood board is by saying it’s ‘kind of a real-life Pinterest’. And partly because she would take SK’s flower paste to a desert island.

Letters page:  No letters page I’m afraid. How about some more pictures of cake?

Rating: 5/10

It’s pictures of cake.

If that’s what you’re looking for, there’s plenty to enjoy; I daresay no other magazine boasts more cakey pictures across a back catalogue of 54 issues. But unless you’re a floral paste rococo curl fetishist, this is unlikely to be the food porn for you.

Bowl lickers can bog off.

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* © Hannah Knight

Toilet Reading: ‘Heat’

Tagline: This week’s hottest celebrity news.

Price: £1

Who is this magazine for? Boasting a circulation that comfortably outstrips most of the newspapers, Heat is one of the big guns. It has a branded radio station, TV channel, exercise DVD and online gaming site. In fact, readers are invited to ‘breathe in the goodness’ of these multi-channel options on the mag’s very first page, a sensation that I imagine is much like walking through the front door of Lush.

Essentially, Heat is for people that like telly. Not TV or television. Telly. Television is David Attenborough illustrating the world’s natural beauty. TV is Friends, maybe, or 30 Rock. Telly is Hollyoaks and Take Me Out. That’s Heat. And who’s there on page 1 but Paddy McGuinness, whose mysteriously enduring on-screen career continues to confound all logical explanation. He’s like one of those optical illusions with the vase and the face – your eyes know he’s there, but the brain can’t help but feel confused and a bit sick.

Anyway, how can something as ubiquitous as Heat qualify as a ‘specialist magazine’, the more irritating among you might ask? Well, mid-market it may be, but Heat is undoubtedly a specialist in what it does – high-octane glossy celebritat. Heat has been making women feel insecure for over 15 years now, rare longevity in this cut-throat segment. Besides, mere average magazines cannot boast of achieving ‘the lowest moment in British journalism‘, and still sell 814 issues.

What did you get for your £1? To give Heat some credit, there’s no question that it comfortably beats all the other mags I’ve read so far on the important measure of pages per penny, clocking up nearly one page per pee.

Madge, Heat magazine

Poor old Madge. From Neighbours dame to ‘too crap for Heat’. Heat! 

Being a well established player, Heat has built up a stable of tried-and-tested regular items. ‘What Were you Thinking?’ sensitively deals with the fashion errors of well-loved celebs, kindly advising readers to ‘try not to vom on the nice magazine’. And then there’s ‘Fill in the blanks’, where we find an interview with a woman called Sam Faiers, whose face and responses exclusively reveal that she is made out of cardboard.

Sam Faiers, Heat magazine

If cardboard could talk, this is what it would say.

Besides the features, which we’ll come on to shortly, there’s an X-Factor heavy crossword, a hard-hitting news section (which confuses you by including a picture of Obama, but then reassuringly notes that his picture is there because he is ‘hot’) and an entire telly guide.

The telly guide makes the editorial team’s allegiances clear by writing accompanying copy for each programme in proportion with their likely interest to the typical Heat reader. University Challenge, Only Connect and Newsnight get a combined total of zero words.

TV Guide, Heat magazine

Note the particularly insightful write-up of Rich, Russian and Living in London.

Features: Because it is gossip mag law, Skeletor appears in the first feature, the thrust of which appears to be some reheated quotes from last year, plus the fact that she may have asked an estate agent to look at some stuff. And then, because it’s also gossip mag law, there’s a load of old toot about how Jennifer is definitely going to dump all over whatever Angelina is doing this year. Apparently, Aniston’s only eating egg-white omelettes with spinach and bacon in 2015, and according to our guff correspondent Rhiannon Evans, that guarantees a spicy catwalk encounter at the upcoming Oscars.

Geordie Gaz

Gaz is the Byron of our times.

Aside from the regulars, there’s some insightful musings from Geordie Shore’s Gaz, who claims to be a secret millionaire. This may be because he has not quite grasped the difference between pounds and pence.

There’s quite a lot more besides, but to be honest, it made me quite angry. The Heat article formula has the creativity and deft touch of an aircraft safety briefing; stupid rhetorical question, joke that Miranda scriptwriters would reject, paragraph of context, the ermagherd shock ‘twist’, joke that Two Pints of Lager and Packet of Crisps scriptwriters would reject, blah blah, pop pop, woo woo.

I’m not going to mention the reviews section, except to say that if you can’t get five stars in Heat (and nearly everything does) you really must have produced quite the turd.

Smelly woman in Heat

‘Because showering takes a while’? Would Aniston say that? I suppose Madge from Neighbours might.

Adverts: As you’d expect from a magazine focused on the visuals, the ads in Heat have a somewhat skin deep feel to them. That said, they clearly don’t always necessarily expect the same hygiene standards of readers as they might from celebrities.

Elsewhere, the back-to-back adverts for Cow&Gate and Nicorette imply a concerted January push to capture the ‘regretted shag at the work Christmas party’ market.

There aren’t that many standalone adverts, but that’s because it’s far easier to shill your pap under the guise of thin articles like ‘Best Dressed Toddler’. Things like £70 Timberland boots, for example.

Letters page: Surprisingly there isn’t one. This may be because the message Heat conveys loud and clear is that normal people aren’t worth your attention. That’s partly because normal people eat fags and stones rather than egg-white omelettes, and partly because they don’t put out press releases for lazy subs to copy and paste.

Rating: 1/10

God, it’s awful. Your Chickens was infinitely superior.

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