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: 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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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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Christmas Toilet Reading: ‘Radio Times’

Land of Dope and Tories will review a publication from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This month: Christmas Radio Times

Tagline: ‘It’s the legendary double issue!’

Price: £3.60

Who is this magazine for? Christmas, isn’t it? Bloody Christmas. And Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the telly. So this magazine is pretty much for everyone. Unless you’re using Netflix, obviously. Or watching YouTube clips of drunk babies. Or illegally streaming The Interview. Or settling down to the best of r/twerking.

The humble telly is looking pretty fragile right now, teetering on the cliff-face of obsolescence. So thank the Lord for Christmas, where across the country millions of gatherings will be punctuated by irate cries of ‘Stop looking at that bloody screen! This is family time! Watch the telly.’

Of course, in the good old days when a Jimmy Saville Christmas special would mean an episode of Jim’ll Fix It rather than Panorama, telly was a different beast. There were four channels. The screen itself wasn’t sufficiently large and richly defined to perceive each individual skin pore on Cilla Black’s face. And as a consequence, the bumper Radio Times had heft, to be sure, but was a reasonable 80 or so pages, half listings, half plugs from the stars of the BBC and ITV nativity stable.

This year’s edition is not like that.

What did you get for your £3.60? The bumper Radio Times sets out its stall right on the cover. 292 pages. It weighs about as much as a bath towel, is nearly as absorbent and of roughly the same level of interest.

A lot of the world’s greatest literature comes in at comfortably fewer than 200 pages. Of Mice and Men. The Old Man and the Sea. A Room of One’s Own. Even A Christmas Carol, and Dickens usually writes as if he was paid by the word. Yet the Radio Times sails past them, in what must be seen in magazine circles as the Iron Man of copywriting.

The basic formula hasn’t changed – but the world has. The listings section has ballooned to Gilgamesh proportions. To some extent, you can’t blame the mag for this. After all, there are hundreds of channels out there now. But there has to be questions asked about an editorial policy that grants three full pages to local radio listings over the festive period. If someone can prove to me that – somewhere, anywhere in the world – there are more than zero fucks given about knowing that Helen Blaby will be occupying the tricky lunchtime slot on Radio Northampton on Tuesday 23rd December, I will eat this magazine. And Helen Blaby is welcome to participate in this bet.

As well as the listings, there’s also what I hesitate to describe as ‘filler’ – features on the new and exciting / patently retreaded Christmas specials you will be forced to watch instead of pwning noobs on Borderlands 2. There’s also a quiz or two, a puzzles page with a suspiciously strong tie-in to BBC quiz shows,

Features: To give the Radio Times some credit, they pull in some big hitters, albeit brought together in a pleasingly ragbag way. I’ve read a lot of good things about the present Archbishop of Canterbury, so have no complaints about his present this year – having the pleasure of being sandwiched between Judi Dench and Miranda Hart. Charlie Brooker appears in what must be his most disappointing interview ever; he’s wearing a Blue Peter badge, spouting anodyne niceties and is photographed looking like a startled art dealer about to be given a parking ticket.

The best feature is the first one, with a load of celebrities explaining what they’d like for Christmas. Full of insight this, mostly because it finally brought home to me who’s buying all that rubbish that perplexingly appears in the shops. Linda Robson – you know, the thinner, boring one from Birds of a Feather – wants ‘silver jewellery, so a necklace of bracelet engraved “To Nanny” or “To Mummy”.’ High fives all round at Argos. Richard Osman apparently wants the McBusted album, because he’s a card, so he is. And Greg Davies – yeah, I’ve got no idea – would ‘like a juicer because I’m sensationally fat.’ Fair play  to Greg; I wouldn’t say he was sensational, but if he pops a couple of beef joints in the juicer he should have high hopes for 2015.

AdvertsRadio Times advert space must be available at premium prices – you’ve got stupid people in a catatonic state thumbing through this for a fortnight, surrounded by tat they don’t want. No-one could be more ready to buy.

As you’d expect, the supermarkets are out in force. Tesco plays it safe with a turkey, Lidl pushes the boat out with pate, while Morrison’s goes big with four pages including one on sprouts, presumably on the grounds that they quickly ran out of nice things to take pictures of.

It’s generally very conventional, middle of the road and family friendly. The mag does know how to please the core fan base though, with a strong finishing straight of classifieds covering stairlifts, walk-in baths and those really uncomfortable looking chairs. The kind with wooden arms and a floral pattern where a good stain tends to improve them.

Letters page: No letters page!

The plebs probably get pushed out at Christmas to make more space for David Walliams, who is keen to remind you that he is still not dead.

Rating: 10/10

Well. It’s Christmas, isn’t it?

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Toilet Reading: ‘Spirit & Destiny’

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

Tagline: ‘Your spiritual guide to life’

Price: £3.20

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

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

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

Spirit and Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit and Destiny

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

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

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

Spirit and Destiny

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

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

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

Spirit and Destiny

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

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

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

Rating: 2/10

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

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

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

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Toilet Reading: ‘Crafty Carper’

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

Tagline: ‘Get Crafty, get catching!’

Price: £4.10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crafty Fox

Nothing is that crafty. Not even this fox.

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

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

Carp fishing

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

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

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

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

Fish carrying

Cradled like a first-born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

French carp

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

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

carp fishing

Paternal pride doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Rating: 6/10

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

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Toilet Reading: ‘Obstacle Race’

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

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

Price: £4.95

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

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

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

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

obstacle course

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Awesomeness.

I did not get this.

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

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

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

Obstacle race

This is a proper obstacle race.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3/10

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

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

Don’t make me read it again.

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Toilet Reading: ‘Shooting Gazette’

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

Tagline: ‘Driven Shooting’s Finest Journal’

Price: £4.10

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

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

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

shooting party

A typically diverse shooting party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shooting, foggy

Lovely day for it.

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

gun advert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/10

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

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

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