Column inches

Those in the provinces may or may not be familiar with London’s free newspaper culture. As well as the Metro, a library of other free rags can be found around the city, distributed by expressionless droids and left to clog up escalators and Tube platforms like piles of sad, abandoned Christmas puppies.

One such paper is the London Evening Standard. This is a paper I’ve oft regarded with caution, not least since a more seasoned Londoner friend batted it out of my hands, exclaiming ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ after I first picked it up.

But, on the way home last night, tired of looking at the sallow complexion of the gum-chewing, throat-clearing gent in front of me, I idly picked it up and had a flick through. And then I got to page 29.

Wow.

Taking up no less than 9 and a half column inches was this. Go on. Have a read. I’ll wait here.

Dita Von Teese wannabe Millicent Binks is the Standard’s new sex columnist, drafted in no doubt to help give the Daily Mail-affiliated paper a contemporary facelift. Indeed, look how bohemian she is. She lives near a market where they play West Indian music. Cultural! She’s also no stranger to multiple bed-buddles (or ‘sex pets’) – of the same sex! Liberated!

The oh-so casual mention of her Art-Deco dressing table leads me to believe it’s not Tooting Market she lives above, that’s for sure.

But back to the column. Sex columnists frequently get a bad rap for writing fluff, but even Carrie blinking Bradshaw, who is not even a real person, wrote columns which gave pause for thought, which hoards of women around New York could relate to. How many women (or men) in London can relate to this tripe? Maybe a pocket up in Notting Hill, perhaps, but surely they’re too busy spending a fortune on looking poor and eating organic carrots and lambasting any rightwing ideas and affiliated publications to read the Standard anyway?

It doesn’t help that it in many places it reads like the disjointed ramblings of an ADHD-riddled child: “My hair was curly last night and now it’s wavy I’ve got FOUR lipsticks I like the noise they make when you take off the lid and now I’m putting my lipstick on lots of times so I don’t go outside the lines and then I gave my boyfriend a blowjob.”

She gave her boyfriend a blowjob. This is the crux of the piece.

This isn’t a sex column written to inspire or comfort or empathise – or even amuse (well…). It’s a dull, vacuous boast-fest designed to give middle-aged commuters a boner on the Tube.

Ick.

Conversations with Virgin Technical Support

So less than 24 hours after having Virgin Broadband (XL) installed, I find myself storming around the house terrifying my housemates because I’m on deadline and I can’t get online.

Unable to locate a single piece of the seemingly endless paperwork they sent us in the previous weeks, I end up getting the ‘Broadband Helpline’ number (chargeable, naturally) from a friend and finding myself in a voice-recognition battle with a lifeless machine asking me for my landline number. DON’T HAVE A LANDLINE NUMBER. So I get cut off. Repeat. Get cut off. I then pit my wits against the machines by MASHING EVERY SINGLE BUTTON ON THE KEYPAD until I am given a set of options. Eventually I am put through to a human.

Me: Could you please give me a more direct phone number to contact you on, in case this happens again?

Virgin: I’m afraid not. The number you rang was correct.

Me: Yes, but I only got here by mashing buttons.

Virgin: Yes.

Me: So you’re saying that the only way I can contact you is by mashing the buttons on my mobile and hoping I get lucky?

Virgin: That is correct.

Me: By mashing buttons?

Virgin: Yes. Let me transfer you to tech support.

Brilliant. Enjoy our £30 a month, fucknuts.

The unthinkable poverty of a middle class Christmas

Another blindingly infuriating article courtesy of The Daily Mail has flashed across my radar.

In this self-absorbed, waffling spiel, middle class mother Charlotte Metcalf laments her secret wish to ‘just cancel Christmas’ because of the unthinkable poverty she’s found herself in following the recession. This terrible trauma has seen her whisked away from a world where spending ‘£45 on a pot of gold-lidded lusciously scented body cream as a Christmas present for a distant cousin’ was simply part of a ‘leisurely afternoon’ of Christmas preparation, and into a hellish NIGHTMARE of penny pinching, because, as she bleats, she’s now ‘lucky if she earns £500 a week as a writer’.

Good grief. How many writers do I know that earn £500 a week? Sure, with my foot only two or three rungs up the industry ladder it’s not surprising that the answer to this is zero. Nonetheless, I’m currently working four days a week in a staff job (which is due to end next week, so look out for a similarly whinging post about the terrible horrors of thriftiness) plus freelancing in my spare time, which is essentially every moment that I’m not asleep or at said job. I can assure you that I earn considerably less than £500 a week. In fact, according to this cheery report by the BBC, I actually fall below the threshold of ‘living at an acceptable standard’.  I also do not have the financial support of a live-in partner, nor am I in receipt of child benefits, and so on.

I’m skint, yes. But for God’s sake, I’m not poverty-stricken, as Metcalf bemoans she is. And yes, Christmas is a difficult time when one is poor, or ‘Nouveau Pauvre’ as is Metcalf’s predicament, but I still manage to avoid Pound Land when buying for my nearest and dearest.

No doubt Metcalf’s awful situation has been exacerbated by ill-managed expectation. “I used to buy ribbons from VV Rouleaux,” she says. “Now their price of £50 for velvet and silk ribbons seems truly shocking. Obscene, even.” Fifty pounds for ribbons? Ribbons? And only now, under forced ‘poverty’ is it apparent that’s just a little excessive? For ribbons. Ribbons!

“Shoppers are set to spend just £195 on festive gifts for loved ones,” she continues. Just £195? Perhaps in Metcalf’s eyes the amount spent on Christmas gifts holds some kind of proportionality to the love or value you have for the recipient. Indeed, I imagine that when you’re earning £1k+ a week many products lose any inherent value anyway, and therefore it’s a case of the flashier the better. But regardless, her desire to want to ‘cancel Christmas’ rather than deal with the challenges that every other average Joe face yearly is just indicative of a materialistic idiocy that has besieged the more ‘well-to-do’ in the aftermath of the recession, and is certainly not in the spirit of the season.

‘Bah Humbug’ indeed.

Just as Ridiculous

So, I’m annoyed about something again. You might as well go and get a cup of tea now. We’re gonna be here a while, I reckon.

A new magazine for plus-size women has been launched. I am loathed to link to the Daily Mail, but here it is. Let’s try to ignore the stomach-churning design (which is itself worthy of a despairing ramble) for now, and skip straight to the title: ‘Just as Beautiful’. Just as Beautiful? How utterly patronising.

Yes, I get that the magazine is a validation of ‘Smokin’ hot big girls’, but ‘Just as Beautiful’ sounds like the words uttered by despairing parents when their spotty, brace-laden daughter comes home sobbing tears of low self-esteem. It’s weak. A lifestyle publication aimed at this market should have a strong, punchy name, and ‘Just as Beautiful’ serves only to draw attention to the obvious question, ‘Just as beautiful as what?’, thereby exacerbating the skinny/curvy divide.

But this title’s entire existence only serves to exacerbate the divide. One magazine for skinnies, another for larger ladies. Why? Because as Editor Sue Thomason says:

“We want our readers to know that they don’t need to change their appearance to ‘fit in’ or be truly happy. Most people only think they need to change because they’re constantly exposed to the message that they do – and shown images of impossibly skinny models that they’re told they ‘should’ look like.”

Well, you can’t say fairer than that. But this sentiment works on the assumption that magazines featuring slimmer models have got strap lines like ‘Smokin’ hot thin girls’ emblazoned across their covers in some hideous font. Magazines have traditionally always used skinny models. Sad fact. But the magazines don’t wax lyrical about how wonderfully skinny they are. Indeed, a number of mags, notably Glamour, have taken steps to create inclusiveness by using ‘real models’. Efforts like this, of course, are not without their own criticisms, but ultimately the content within is applicable to women regardless of their size or weight. Those that argue otherwise probably haven’t explored much of the women’s magazine market lately.

Just as Beautiful, however, seems to deliberately alienate a section of the female market by making clear its target demographic: size 14 and over. And thus an esteemed peer, who happens to work for a very high-profile women’s title, makes the following point: If traditional women’s glossies are, according to JaB’s Editor, for skinny chicks (and, based on the typical models used here, we’re assuming this is under size 10, more likely under size 8), and this ‘pioneering’ new title is aimed at size 14+, what the hell do size 12 women read “that doesn’t make you feel like you’re too big or ‘wrong’”. They don’t fit in anywhere! Who’ll cater for them? Perhaps we need magazines for a range of body sizes, so we can all feel validated in our weight and appearance and develop a crushing loathing for women of any size that isn’t our own. Wrong’uns!

Brilliantly, Thomason remarks, “The point of the magazine is not to make such a big deal about women’s figures like other magazines do.” An argument which caves in on itself when the entire ethos of the magazine is, clearly, about women’s figures.

Cheers to Misogyny!

Despite increasing concerns over censorship, the issue of super injunctions and the ‘dumbing down’ of reportage by some publishing outlets, one thing that the media industry has going for it in the UK is the freedom with which regular Joes can publish their own rags. From photocopied gag sheets to smartly presented what’s on guides, the country’s regions are awash with free magazines. Some, of course, are better quality than others.

And falling with a heavy thud into that ‘others’ category comes Cheers magazine. Now, just take a minute to soak up the design of that front cover. Of course, I could make a scathing remark about the terrible stock photo (which has got what to do with Barking?), the clashing font colours (and indeed the fonts themselves) and the clip-art BLOB in the top right corner, sitting awkwardly on the cover like a fat spot on an already unfortunate nose. But I won’t, because I’m all for local magazines and what’s to say that the quality of journalism inside the publication isn’t actually rather good? However, I think we all know where this is going.

I came across this dog’s breakfast after someone tweeted about a particular article’s misogynistic sway. The article in question, which can be found here, is titled ‘What men really want from women’, complete with poor text alignment and generous use of drop shadow. Fair enough, an article of this nature isn’t really that different to the kind of relationship blurb you’d get in Cosmo and indeed, the first few ‘hints’ are fairly uninspiring: men want honesty, men want fidelity, etc. No surprises there then. But then, ‘Men do not want your leadership’, swiftly followed by ‘Be family orientated. Endeavour to cook. Wear feminine clothes like knee length skirts and slingbacks.’ And then, unbelievably, ‘Ensure he gets you regularly. Lack of intimacy at home is the major cause of infidelity’. Er, pardon me?

I had hoped this might just be a poorly-executed satirical piece, but then I found a post by Hannah Mudge, which details a response written by Cheers‘ moronic editor, in response to criticism of the article. Behold:

“Sorry you feel that way. However, we stick by our article. Our focus is building back our community, which sadly has been destroyed by weird ideas from within and outside government.

The home is the basis of society, and it’s broken in lots of our communities.

We will also be doing an article on men’s responsiblities to which you may choose to contribute.

Also, the article is titled “What men want in women”. As you are not a man, I do not think you are in a position to know what men want or determine what they should want.

Also, our article is geared to helping many women who have marital issues caused by ignoring to do basic things.

I will touch on a couple:
Whether you like it or not some women hold back on intimacy, thinking it is a hold on the man or a reward. Quite often, it drives them to other women and the divorce court. What you fail to realise is that for a man to be with you at all, he saw something in you. So, why on earth should he play? It’s not because he does not love you, it’s because sex and love are NOT linked in men, unlike women.

Some do not think cooking is important. Well, to most men, food is more important than anything else. Many men go into stone walls without any obvious reason. Deep down, it’s because he’s hungry. “I’m going home. My wife is cooking” is the only thing that makes most men leave the pub. Not “I’m going home, my wife needs me.” Tough but true.

Thank you

Dapo Sijuwola
Cheers Magazine”

As Hannah notes in her post:

“A quick bit of investigative work by other people who were just as horrified by the magazine’s content threw up links to a bizarre publishing company called Paul Books, interestingly listed on one directory as a ‘religious organisation’. And someone else quickly found out that Dapo Sijuwola stood in this year’s general election as a candidate for The Restoration Party, a party which calls for ‘a return to the values that made Britain great’. Apparently rampant misogyny is one of these values.”

So yes. A liberal and accessible media is indeed a brilliant thing, but when rubbish like this is being distributed freely throughout an area in the guise of a ‘community magazine’? Not so much.

Sijuwola’s email address is editor@cheersmagazine.co.uk. Perhaps you’d like to offer him some feedback? I certainly do.

More social media screw ups

Back in February, mobile telecommunications giant, Vodafone, hit the headlines after their Twitter account was ‘breached’, and an employee posted this offensive message. In a matter of seconds, the brand’s status and reputation had been compromised to the extent that they were quickly grovelling to the Twitterverse: ‘We’re really sorry. Dealing with that internally. Please keep your faith in us.’

Not long after, Nestle was hit with a similar social media blow.

For the many businesses opting to use social media networks as an effective marketing platform, the first episode no doubt demonstrated that in the wrong hands it can prove disastrous, and the second that, even in the right hands, things can quickly go awry – and there are no end of websites and ‘gurus’ offering advice on the best way to deal with this tricky medium.

In terms of branding, it’s not enough to simply ‘be there’ – interacting with fans, followers and users is vital. A very good friend of mine works for a high-profile portfolio of women’s online titles as community manager, and spends a large part of her day doing just that. In her professional capacity then, she was as horrified as I was in my personal capacity to learn that More! magazine had managed to screw this up in a fairly spectacular fashion.

Twitter user, @sequentially (who blogs about fashion – and recently, this Twitter debacle –  here), had voiced her indignation of a particular More! feature in the following tweets:

More! magazine then jumped on this, tweeting the following:

Fair enough, @Sequentially had been a bit vicious in her original tweet, and indeed many might argue the old adage ‘If you’ve nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all’. However, the response of @moremagazine, in my mind, smacks of childish playground politics. @Sequentially has, in her own blog, disregarded any suggestion of cyber bullying, but to my mind, actively encouraging the persecution of one individual is just that. Furthermore, I – and a number of other women I’ve spoken to about this –  feel that this episode only serves to reinforce the More! magazine stereotype: consumerism focused, few features of real substance or journalistic quality, materialistic, catty, shallow.

To further compound the issue, a More! editorial staff member posted this Facebook status on the public More! Facebook page, lamenting the audacity of readers who dare express their views of the magazine. My community manager friend was apoplectic with fury at this. One of the hardest parts of her job, she says, is dealing with negative feedback from readers. This can often take the form of very personal digs which have reduced her to tears on more than one occasion. But her ability to bite her lip and reply ‘Thanks for your feedback. We’ll pass it on to the editors’ is a testament to her professionalism. Furthermore, it’s this very feedback – negative and unpleasant as it may be – that can prove valuable to brands looking to engage a wider market.

Unfortunately, though, in More!‘s case, they’ve only used this feedback to instigate an ego-boost for themselves and deter both the previous and potential readers that left such behaviour in playground.

Tonsil Trouble: Part Four

Something that struck me, as I lay awake at 5am this morning having woken up for the third time in one night, is how dependant I am on a variety of external things to see me through difficult times. My three biggest vices – smoking, eating and booze – have always played a large part in my life’s celebrations or commiserations. Good news? Crack open the wine. Bad news? A cigarette and big piece of cake will help. This was by no means a revelation for me. I’ve known for years that I’ve got a fairly addictive personality. But now, as day 11 post-op rolls around and I’m still unable to talk properly, let alone eat or drink without screaming the house down, I’m more aware of it than ever. In all honesty, I’m quite miserable and my usual go-to remedies are definite no-nos.

However, I’m able to get out of bed now, and cutting back on the pain meds a bit means I can at least go up and down the stairs without a chaperone waiting to catch me (codeine turns me into a bit of a space cadet). So, I’m getting there. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey and all that. A couple of things I wish I’d known before/have learnt since, though:

* Ice packs are a brilliant help. I’ve only been using them for the last two nights but wish I’d had them at the beginning.

* Despite the myths, ice cream is arguably the most painful thing I’ve eaten so far. It burns. But that didn’t stop me chaving my housemate’s Cornetto last night. I suspect that harks back to the food = happiness thing, though.

* People telling you ‘It’ll get better soon’ is both reassuring and infuriating. So if you can afford to, hire a nurse to look after you for the first week or so, because you will get grumpy, and your loved ones won’t have the foggiest idea of how to deal with you. Everyone ends up frustrated. Trust me.

* Tell the hospital, upon your departure, that there’s no point calling you to find out how you’re doing, because you can’t talk. You’d hope that they might look at their notes, see that you’ve had throat surgery and realise that telecommunications are a bit beyond your current remit, but they won’t. So you’ll end up answering the call thinking it might be important, and end up grunting at a non-English speaking person who makes no sense and keeps asking you to repeat everything, and you’ll get so frustrated that all you want to do is throw a bottle of wine down your neck and chain smoke between eating huge mouthfuls of gooey cake, just to cope with the idiocy. But you won’t be able to. All you’ll be able to do is drool into a tissue, look angrily at your nicotine patch and punch the next person that cheerfully points out that ‘It’ll get better soon’, as they tuck into their dinner with a beer in hand.