Thursday, 5 March 2015

#tbt Arena Magazine

Arena magazine was one of the best men's lifestyle magazines in publication in the naughties. Articles were aimed at a mature, intelligent audience with insight and wit. There were no exposed breasts, no immature smutty stories and their jokes were actually funny. The clothes they reviewed looked good and the features original and refreshing.

One such article involved an actor giving up his glam lifestyle to travel on horseback through Patagonia, and witnessed his team member catch an armadillo by jamming a finger up its back passage. Okay. Another feature asks “Is your girlfriend doing too much coke?” whilst another interviews the female cast members from US TV show My Name is Earl.

This article portrays said actresses as glamorous professionals, unlike their humorously-trashy fictional counterparts. And yes, they're pictured in underwear, but the women are eloquent and the journalist is actually interested in their background. Jaime Pressly (Earl's “fidelity-challenged” wife Joy) describes learning joke-telling skills from her dad, While Nadine Velazquez- sidekick and Hispanic maid Catalina- discusses her boxing training. It's made clear that both women are in relationships, and the questions never get too personal, but it's an interesting insight into what the actresses' lives are like on a successful comedy series.

The final issue was released April 2009. I spoke to someone in publishing who claimed that the publishers had sacked the editor and the advertisers lost faith. No money, no magazine. Can publishing people confirm / deny?

And which out-of-print publications do you miss?

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Vagenda

Of all the stupid portmanteau terms we had come across while reading magazines- manthropology, shoemaggedon, hiberdating- 'vagenda' was the most ridiculous. And we found not only that the amalgamation of 'vagina' and 'agenda' was pleasing to the ear, but that the word perfectly encapsulated the aims of the blog: to expose the silly, manipulative and sometimes damaging ulterior motives of women's magazines.”

-The Vagenda

As mentioned recently, an advance copy of The Vagenda, a book described by writer / broadcaster Jeanette Winterson as “A brilliant expose of women's mags and marketing- laugh-out-loud” landed in my corridor . I have quite omnivorous tastes when it comes to literature, but I've never read any women's lifestyle magazines so the book was an insightful introduction to this world of advice, tips and “true” stories.

From a male perspective, the book reassured me that women were being fed as much crap in lifestyle magazines as men are- I'd always felt that mags like FHM and Loaded were childish affairs for people too scared to reach for the top shelf, and that the more upmarket publications like GQ and Esquire were for people with waaaay more money than me. I felt that a lot of the information from both ends of the men's lifestyle spectrum wasn't that interesting, or the “advice” wasn't particularly helpful.

That said, the chapter on lads' mags I found to be a little patronising. Yes, some of their humour borders on outright misogyny, but the writers forget that humour has and always will push the boundaries of what is acceptable, and humour- including sexual jokes- will always be one of those boundaries. The onus, the writers seem to forget, is on the individuals not to be a misogynist themselves. 

The revelation that The Vagenda delivers is one that relates to men's and women's magazines, and having read many Esquires and the occasional Loaded in my time, I'm embarrassed not to have realised this myself. If these magazines could actually help you, if their advice was sound and beneficial, you wouldn't need to buy their magazines any more. So they feed you rubbish and keep you in the dark to keep you spending.

Written by journalists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in a funny but professional tone, The Vagenda brings insight and laughs, but also sheds light on the way the media portrays women as an entire gender, or as they put it “being labelled frigid, princesses or tramps”. The style is a little familiar, similar to a lot of other successful blogs written by women with journalism backgrounds- Arsenic and Old Lace and Bookcunt for example, both fine feminist blogs with I suspect some professional training behind them- but The Vagenda's material is consistently engaging, and stretches its investigations further than just reprinting sections of the blog as a book (Not that we're criticising, Belle De Jour.)

Editors and advertisers- people who create the magazines of today- are clearly under increasing scrutiny to respect their audiences, and to market towards them with understanding and dignity (not least by The Vagenda writers themselves). This book will hopefully push things forward in that regard. It'll also make you laugh in the process.

The Vagenda is released 5th March. Advanced copies available online.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Manchester Spankathon

Today, not long after I'd got out of bed, I got my arse spanked by a dominatrix in Manchester's Sackville Gardens in the heart of the Gay Village.

As The Manchester Evening News discusses, The Spankathon events- led by campaigner and sex worker Charlotte Rose- aim to raise awareness of a change in the law.

The event began with Charlotte addressing the crowd outside gay bar / hotel The Rembrant, making it clear that we don't want the government to tell us- adults- which videos we can and can't watch when they feature other consenting adults.

As Charlotte's leaflet describes, “On December 1st, in secret, without debate, and without wider consultation, parliament pushed through new laws via amendments to “protect” women and children from the so called 'evils' of porn. Far from protecting anyone, these laws are confined by the conventions of a very narrow, straight male view of the world as they see it. They are wholly skewed in their selection of what is deemed acceptable clamping down far harder on expressions of women's sexuality than on men's.”

The laws would, weirdly, restrict British producers from depicting consensual spanking in their videos. This is happening in an era when, Charlotte reminds us, large online organisations like Facebook can't manage to take down videos of beheadings and people being burned alive.

Jane Fae, from the Consenting Adults Action Network (CAAN), took the mic next. “The problem of Government policy on censorship,” she described, “is that it is irrational and hurts the very people it supposedly protects.” She goes on to discuss that they have been contacted by students struggling with their sexuality- and the internet. “If someone at a college or university thinks that they may be gay and they type 'lesbian' into the search engine, the results are frequently blocked by the campus' filters.”

Before we began the main event, Charlotte reminded us all that we must ask permission before we spanked anyone and that the spanking mustn't be on bare skin, in case children were around.

At 12:30, to the sound of Madonna's Hanky Panky, the spanking began on a park bench. Charlotte set the ball rolling by taking a lady with pink hair over her lap and spanking her bottom. Hurrah!

Then, using the appropriately large seating area, the attendees gathered to lie over each other's laps whilst getting spanked. The next to feel campaigner-and-dominatrix Charlotte's firm hand was a reporter from national pervy red-top The Daily Sport, whilst his and other photographers snapped away. I got in on the action too, lying over Charlotte's lap and taking six of the best. Well, hey, if it's free...

Also in attendance was the Manchester Evening News, so I could end up on their site in the next 24 hours. Or even the paper. Who knows.

For more info see Charlotte's website.

And if the Government could please just let adults watch other adults doing what adults want to do, that'd be great.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Panacea Undergoes Refurbishment

Celebrity haunt and trendy nightclub Panacea closed Saturday 7th February for refurbishment.

Here are the latest pictures of the club:

I went over the summer and loved it. Panacea II is a Work In Progress. I personally thought it looked brilliant as it was...

...but I'm keen to see what the new layout and appearance will be like. I'm sure the team behind Panacea II won't disappoint!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Avici White has Closed. Long Live Avici White.

Deansgate club Avici White closed its doors for the last time on 7th February. The house music venue first opened in 2011 and before long big names like Joey Negro were playing on Saturday nights. The early days were superb.

The club changed it's music policy after a few months, from classic / funky house to a more tech and electro style, resulting in a younger clientèle. I preferred it's earlier days.

But earlier this month the club uploaded this tweet.

A subsequent reply revealed the 111A Deansgate address has been bought by another club.

There were rumours of a second venue that eventually never materialised, but I have fond memories of the club in the first funky few months of its life. I also wish the team- Richard and Natalie et al- all the best for the future.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Thanks for the book, Vintage!

This unexpectedly dropped through the letterbox Friday.

The Vagenda is a book based on the blog of the same name by London journalists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. Apparently a runaway success in the blogging world, The Vagenda was founded in 2012 getting 7 million hits in its first year. Jealous.

Publishers Vintage have now given the ladies a book deal. The Guardian described it as “a brilliant expose of women's mags and marketing- laugh-out-loud and painfully funny.” I've read the first chapter and it's certainly drawn me in. I'll make a few notes as I go along and will review it ASAP.

So, thanks Vintage- I'm assuming you've seen the blog and noticed that I review books. Happy to oblige. This is a first!

If you're a publisher and want me to review your book, hit me up at

Sunday, 22 February 2015

William S Burroughs: A Life

Back in the early half of last year I started on the 700-page behemoth, William S Burroughs: A Life, by Barry Miles. It's a recently-published biography, the first to emerge on the surrealist writer and heroin addict in a quarter of a century. This week I finished reading it.

William Burroughs (1914-1997) was a surrealist author, one of the founders of the “cut-up” technique of writing (literally slicing up printed works and mixing them with others) and a major heroin abuser. He was an outlaw not just because of his liberal drug stance: he was a gay man who lived in the USA and the UK during times when both countries were still prohibiting homosexuality.

The book charts his youth in St Louis, Missouri, where he went to school with the vampire hunter Vincent Price, his acceptance into Harvard, his migration to South America and the accidental killing of his wife (a marriage of convenience rather than love), the release of his most celebrated work, Naked Lunch, his time spent in Paris and London, and his twilight years state-side in Kansas.

The detail and level of research that Miles went to to produce this book is exceptional- granted, he was a friend of Burroughs for 30 years, so he would have some first-hand knowledge. But the interviews he conducted and the existing published material he unearthed must have taken a long time to collate. The notes accompanying the text, on their own, take up 37 pages of the book. It may be a lengthy account of the man's life but the content is always intriguing, usually bizarre and frequently laden with tense scenarios (The State Department trying to frame him for drug smuggling on one side of the Atlantic, and the Obscene Publications Squad trying to take Naked Lunch out of British book stores on the other).

I loved reading this book, even if I only read it in bursts. The first quarter I read over one weekend in early July. I was house-sitting a Rotary Centre in the Peak District whilst family and their college friends were out walking in the hills. The rest took until this week.

When you spend that much time reading about one person's life, you start to form a connection to the subject and you begin to sympathise with them (if you didn't after that many pages, something is wrong). So when you reach the section covering 2nd August 1997, you can't help be affected when the 83-year-old legendary writer slips out of the world on a Lawrence Kansas hospital bed.

A fantastic read. I'm looking forward to reading the Cut-up Trilogy.

I bought the book at an exhibition of Burroughs' photography in London.