Toilet Reading: National Enquirer

Tagline: ‘Ameri—(Bruce Jenner’s head)–ttest weekly’

Price: £1

Who is this magazine for? Being a celebrity is a popular career choice for some people. Apparently it’s supposed to be a glorious release from the drudgeries of life. No more sorting out the recycling or hanging around with mouth-breathers. No more Youngs Admiral’s Pie. No more exams or beige carpet. It’s all red, red, red from here baby.

National Enquirer

Certainly, your job can’t be as high powered as David Pecker’s. I bet he just takes out the bins.

But these dream jobs often turn out to be hard in ways you wouldn’t imagine. Guns ‘N’ Roses whiner Axl Rose once pointed out that the life of a rock and roll front man wasn’t so fun when you had to do the business every day. ‘Would you want to jump off a car  roof every  night?’ he bitches, a routine which puts a twice-daily Jubilee Line crush into perspective.

Another occupational hazard of celebrity life is the gossip rags. These are essentially toilet roll for wiping the minds of the terminally confused. From the price tag to the shoddy, absorbent paper, National Enquirer does all it can to create the impression that this is a publication run and read by bin-sifters.

National Enquirer is written for the American market. This fact is given away by three things – Old Glory on the masthead, repeated and unapologetic use of the word ‘duds’, and a laser-like focus on Hollywood’s finest. British gossip-mongers like Heat and Pick Me Up! tend to shy away from A-listers. That’s partly because they have neither the PR contacts nor the libel insurance to risk it, and partly because their readerships prefer to pass judgment on whoever happens to be on Hollyoaks or Corrie this week. I suppose if you’re going to shit on people, far better to be close enough to them to imagine the look on their faces.

What did you get for your £1? National Enquirer focuses on targets (and I use that word advisedly) who have achieved single name recognition. In most cases – ‘Britney’, ‘Kanye’, ‘Brad’ – this represents ultimate accolade of public life. Of course, single name recognition isn’t a guaranteed victory in every case. Lembit, for example.

But with a retail price of just a quid, it’s quite clear that National Enquirer is not going to be able to afford legitimate access to star quality of such lofty heights. Instead, you’re served the reheated remnants of the papparazzi’s more desperate efforts. This menu is set pitch perfectly by the inside front page: Britney Spears’ fat rolls captured by long lens, and Brooke Shields putting some dogshit in a bin.

Celebrity ‘news’ absorbs the vast majority of the mag’s 47 pages, but as an afterthought National Enquirer has generously thrown in a couple of pages of Real Life (usually some outlandish sex thing that would get seven or eight pages at the front if a bona fide celebrity did it) and True Crime (because National Enquirer is read by the kind of people that would slow down extravagantly at car accidents).

National Enquirer

There’s the Pulitzer in the bag.

Features: After the dogshit-fat roll opener, the magazine gathers pace with the scoop that Rihanna is no longer planning on allegedly touring with Kanye. Hot on the heels of this ‘something unannounced isn’t going to happen’ shocker, National Enquirer follows up with ‘something that happened on TV happened’, ‘something that’s going to happen on TV will happen’, and then, brilliantly, another story about dogshit.

Unfortunately, other than excreta-based exclusives, the mag’s cupboard of fresh stories is distinctly bare. A twenty-year old story about Demi Moore is followed up by the stunning revelation that time continues to pass, with reports suggesting this temporal phenomena is especially pronounced in the vicinity of Michael Douglas’ face.

National Enquirer

It’s a cheap gag, but seeing as she’s made a very lucrative career by making women feel inadequate, I don’t care.

Some originality is provided by the liposuction photo feature, which elegantly kills two shitehawks with one stone by allowing the mag to print bikini-clad celebs and judge them for being fat AND not being fat. It’s really not worth saying anything more about this, other than the fact the Donatella Versace bears a striking resemblance to an oven-baked version of the Javier Bardem bad guy in Skyfall.

Meanwhile, over in True Crime, we have the story of a woman who killed her husband for his money before keeping his remains in Tupperware boxes for seven years. She even moved house twice. Clearly this is both sinister and sad, but the horror of the crime is dampened somewhat by National Enquirer’s ecstatic praise for Tupperware’s ‘handy, leak-proof containers with snap-on lids’. This is either an exceptionally poor investment of the Tupperware PR budget, or a savvy grab for the sizeable ‘well, you’ll never know when you might need it’ murderer’s Tupperware party market.

Adverts: Surprisingly, the mag has only managed to snag two adverts. The first is for Peacocks, a clothing chain that competes with, nay, aspires to be Primark.

The second, on the back cover, is for a Nightmare Before Christmas themed clock. A tenner for ‘S&H’, and a further £179.95 for the ‘I&T’ that is the clock itself, this 21-inch monstrosity must be the ugliest object ever crafted by human hands. Looking at it directly produces a burning sensation akin to being stung repeatedly in the eye by a swarm of urine-soaked bees. Legislation prevents me from publishing a photo.

Magazine favourites The Bradford Exchange are behind it, of course, rubbing their hairy hands with glee. For some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that David Blaine must be a shareholder in them.

Letters pageNational Enquirer doesn’t have a letters page. However, that doesn’t mean it takes no interest in what the readers are thinking. There was a comprehensive survey at the back, so I helpfully decided to fill it in.

National Enquirer survey

“Army of readers”?


Hopefully I’ll get the 100 quid.

Rating: 2/10

Provided they stick to Tupperware and dogshit, National Enquirer is almost readable. Otherwise, no.

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Toilet Reading: Good Woodworking

Tagline: ‘The No.1 magazine for aspiring designer makers.’

Price: £4.25

Who is this magazine for? Building stuff is part of what it is to be human. Who hasn’t enjoyed tackling the engineering challenge of building an impregnable sofa fort? Picking your site, honing the design, and berating the quantity surveyor for her inability to source the blankets and mattress that your fine blueprints demanded.

Most of us took up residence in the fort for up to six minutes before realising that sitting still in a cushioned cave sans television was a massive tactical error. But some looked back at their efforts through flinty eyes, shamed by the poor stability and dreaming of the materials that could take it to the next level. They dreamed of working doors, tiled roofs and tool boxes. They dreamed of tree houses, and drinking cool lemon barley squash therein. They dreamed of wood.

They grew taller, went to secondary school and found that learning Woodwork was seen as a joke; one of the three Ws of schoolboy wasterhood (the third being White Lightning). So they took the Duke of Edinburgh award, joined the Scouts for longer than is strictly healthy, and waited.

They grew wider. Got jobs, lost hair, acquired wardrobes that were long on Blue Harbour and short on choices not made by their wives. And they bought tools. Lots of shiny, sharp tools.

And then one day, they realised it was now their time to work wood. Work wood good.

What did you get for your £4.25? Woodworking is one of those pursuits that requires a great deal of patience; mindfulness that can see a man through hitting his own thumb more than fifteen times in a single afternoon without having to repeat any expletives (‘Ghoulwanker.” “Hackscrotum.” “Goatboner.”).

As well as patience, your good woodworker needs the fortitude to contemplate a task that may take him many months, with scant reward until completion. He must be able to do this without slipping straight into thinking, ‘Yeah fuck that, I’ll just go and browse the fridge again to check whether those yogurts have turned into an old slice of takeaway pizza.’ Good Woodworking is a magazine that demands similar qualities.

This is clear from the magazine’s opening News section, which leads – leads, mind you – with a piece announcing the arrival of a new dust extractor. The CTL SYS deals with ‘class L dust’ apparently, a statement which makes clear to the reader that you are now entering a world where different types of dust not only exist but are exhaustively classified.

Good Woodworking

Because no Decorating Elf should be without it’s own ball cutter.

If you cling on past the news section – which further tests your commitment to reading on with pieces on the Wood Awards and the British Oak conference – you’re rewarded with sections on Projects (how to guides), Techniques (including a, sigh, masterclass on shelving), People & Places (in a mysterious nod to Trivial Pursuit) and Your Favourites (the usual magazine miscellany of odds and sods).

Features: But it’s unfair to judge a mag on the news section alone. After all, it might just have been a slow month in the world of woodworking. So let’s look at the features.

The shelving masterclass felt like a good place to start, because in a mag strewn with jargon (‘planer-thicknessers’, ‘stub riser’) I at least know what a shelf is. However, try as I might, the crushing tedium of wood-based chat makes it awesomely difficult to force eyes to absorb any of the words. Take this paragraph:

‘Take two matching planks and mark them up for shelves. It is common to have graduated gaps between shelves often corresponding to the different sizes of books. You will also need to remember that the shelf has thickness, probably about 20mm.’

I had to read this paragraph five or six times before it eventually sank in that its two messages were: 1) shelves have gaps between them, rather than being just a big old pile o’ wood, and 2) shelves are three-dimensional.

Things did not improve in the piece on the history of the nail. There may be no a sentence more effective at clearing a room than, ‘in the early 20th century it was reported that there were about 300 types of nail available.’

In the end, I found the only way to keep going through the many, many features was to read them out loud in a poor Spanish accent. I enjoyed Good Woodworking far more after this discovery, but the rest of the congregation wasn’t pleased.

Good Woodworking

Though I’m sure all Chippendales would appreciate a visit to this place.

Adverts: After the dry, honest worthiness of the magazine’s contributors, I was hoping that a bit of naked commercialism would perk things up. There is certainly plenty of space devoted to ads in Good Woodworking, and I felt a frisson of potential from the ‘Chippendale International School’ ad. Sadly their teachings were grimly focused on restoring furniture rather than pelvic thrusts.

Unfortunately the adverts further brought into focus the folly of a magazine devoted to the worthiness of wood. If there was ever a product crying out for some scantily clad models and primary-coloured starbursts to add a bit of marketing zing, it’s wood glue. Parades of technical specs and cautious promises were the order of the day everywhere, with the only marketing trick being deployed the old ‘…and so much more!’ features list.

Letters page: By not you wouldn’t expect much from the letters page. It doesn’t disappoint.

As I had come to start disliking some of the magazine’s contributors personally for the minutes they had stolen from me, I was quite pleased by the arsey tone taken by most of the correspondents. Three of the four letters printed were complaining in some way about articles in previous issues. Coincidentally, the one that wasn’t won letter of the month.

If nothing else, this explains why woodworking is a solitary hobby.

Rating: 3/10

Good Woodworking is the kind of magazine adults read in children’s TV programmes when the storytellers are making pantomime efforts to show how boring grown ups are. I woodn’t bother.

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Toilet Reading: Country Smallholding

Tagline: ‘Britain’s Biggest-Selling Smallholding Magazine’

Price: £3.95

Who is this magazine for? Here you are, a chap of late middle age. You unconsciously harumpf every time you bend down to sit on the sofa, the barber laughs at you when you walk into his shop. Occasional sex is still enjoyable, but primarily as a reason for a nice lie-down. Even worse, your well-remunerated working life consists of meetings with young bucks; obnoxious streaks of hair gel hellbent on swiping your comfortable corner office away.

You’re being put out to pasture. Why not buy the pasture?

To be a successful country smallholder, you must be three things: rich, able to overlook the fact that ‘smallholder’ sounds like a euphemism for the owner of a tiny penis, and not a farmer. The last of these is the most important.  A smallholder is to a farmer what a white van man is to a proper lorry driver. Each one achieves basically the same thing, but the latter considers the former to be a worthless hobbyist.

Kate Humble

Turn that ‘n’ upside-down, and that’s what 50% of the readership are thinking about Kate.

Actually, there’s a fourth thing. You need to be a big fan of Kate Humble. I’ve got nothing against Kate, you understand – she seems pleasant enough in an engaging, Sunday school sort of way – but she has become this era’s outdoorsman’s crumpet, a position occupied not too long ago by the equally unlikely Charlie Dimmock. Here she is on the cover, there she is writing a page-long column, here she is pictured opening a factory in Somerset. Kate’s even got adverts for her ‘Humble by Nature’ farm courses in the back of the mag, which is a cruel tease to play on men who think that Mrs Humble herself will be guiding them through a day-long ‘Pigs for Beginners’ seminar.

What did you get for your £3.95? Apart from lots of Kate Humble, the overwhelming thing you get is adverts, of which more later.

Squeezed around the plugs for chick incubators and mini tractors are a handful of articles, an ‘Ask the Experts’ page, a show guide listing all the unmissable events for the smallholder’s diary and a whole bonus magazine call Poultry (inserted for ‘free’, an offer that pisses on Your Chickens’ henhouse).

The tone of Country Smallholding is set at a level of whimsy carefully calculated to annoy real farmers. Take the front cover for example. The top story, boasting of ‘HOT livestock’, was clearly written by somebody who considers the congress of man and sheep a bit of a laugh, rather than an occasional product of the crippling loneliness experienced by a true professional.

Features: The sense of ‘have a go’ amateurism continues through the features. Most of these follow a how to guide format – making beer, growing strawberries, choosing a sheep breed appropriate to your modest patch of land. As a slothful assbag of semi-organic matter, my method for completing each of these tasks is simple; have somebody competent do it in a way 100 times cheaper than I could ever manage (after my breakage and legal costs are accounted for).

Neighbour's cat

‘This fucking guy.’

In the beer-making article, I can’t even imagine how I would carry out the basic instructions. I might manage to successfully ‘drain off my second batch of wort,’ but how am I going to ‘clean out the spent grain and put it aside for feeding to pigs’? I don’t have any pigs. I could feed it to the neighbour’s cat, but seeing as he’s on a one-cat mission to turn my front garden into 100% cat crap, whereby he digs a hole in his crap, craps in it, and covers it with his own crap, I’m not keen to provide him with any support.

Meanwhile, over in Poultry, we get a fascinating interview with Marcus Walker, a top chicken breeder. The article reveals that he is known as ‘‘the duck man’ in the exhibition world’, which reveals much about the level of banter to be expected at poultry exhibitions.

One pimp motherducker

Marcus gives exactly zero quacks.

Marcus also touches briefly on the debate surrounding the laying capacity of Orpingtons, which, judging by the interviewer’s reactions, excite high passions in the smallholding world. I’m never sure whether it’s comforting or distressing that human beings – many of whom able to eat unaided – can invest a good deal of their brief window of mortality in arguing whether a particular type of feathery bagpipe can produce 80 or 120 eggs a year. On balance, it’s probably a good thing. They could be working in advertising.

AdvertsCountry Smallholding doesn’t hold back on adverts, with a bewildering array of chicken houses, animal arks, lotions, potions and worming medicines on offer.

X-ray chicken

Ever wondered what a chicken what look like if you were wearing X-ray specs? Now you know.

There’s a real range of professionalism on display too, with efforts ranging from the slickly impressive to the Comic Sans brain dump of the terminally odd. The strange thing about most of the stuff on offer is that it’s mostly designed to make running one’s smallholding easier and efficient. Fair enough, but in most cases, surely the point of having a smallholding to play with is to absorb as much spare time as possible?

Some of the products unwittingly give away their target market’s flighty nature. The beeswax hand cream in particular shouts ‘Greenhorn! City pansy! Your pathetic hands haven’t seen anything rougher than the edge of an Oyster card for fifteen years.’

At the back of the mag is a breeders’ directory, which is just a multi-species lonely hearts column on fast-forward. Some of the adverts have a similar feel too. ‘Organic Tamworth. Splendid characters and good looking’. Has you looking for the PO Box number already doesn’t it?

In the market for something a little more direct? ‘Pedigree pigs. Black weaners and growers often available.’

Letters page: Country Smallholding shuns tales of reader experiences, preferring instead to go with direct questions that seek advice from the magazine’s expert panel. When to plant spuds, what to feed pigs, which hive to choose for your bees – good, straightforward enquiries. So good in fact, that one has to be slightly suspicious as to whether they were actually sent in by readers. Suspicion deepens as you notice the question writers aren’t named.

Regardless of whether the writers are genuine, I still learned some valuable information. It is illegal, for example, to feed pigs with anything that’s been in your kitchen. Illegal, mark you, not just a bad idea. Which makes that ‘how to brew beer’ article – appearing just four pages later – look pretty dodgy to me.

Who knew? I thought pigs just ate mud.

Rating: 8/10

Country Smallholding is a substantial magazine supporting a substantial hobby. I’ve never enjoyed a close-up picture of a diseased sheep foot more.

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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.


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


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


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


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.”


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