As I approached the entrance to Brixton tube yesterday morning, I had a train of thought which went like this:

Please don’t try to give me a copy of Stylist magazine, please don’t try to give me a copy of Stylist magazine…you bastard! Why didn’t you try to give me a copy of Stylist magazine? Is it because you think I look like a MAN?

After I stopped reading Stylist for the fun of spotting the typos (it gets old quite quickly), I started reading it for the content, but that only lasted a week because it’s full of exortations to spend lots of money on really stupid things, and I am going through one of my periodic phases of disgust at the amount of stuff I have. When I moved from north London to south London three years ago under dramatic circumstances, I left everything behind. Well, almost everything – I kept my clothes, my books and my piano. I moved into a rented room in Brixton and felt the peculiar lightness that comes with leaving everything behind, including most of your responsibilities. I have new responsibilities now, ones I chose myself rather than picking up by accident, but I still don’t have that much stuff. I don’t need any new stuff.

So Stylist magazine isn’t for me. Sometimes I pick up a copy of Metro and read the celebrity gossip, the Nemi cartoon (I am the only person in the world who likes it, but I like it enough to make up for all those other people) and the football pages, along with anything else that catches my eye, but that lasts for less than half of my commute. So I read my book. At the moment, my book is Emma, and it’s the first Jane Austen I’ve attempted as an adult. And it’s sweet and funny and I’m enjoying it, but good grief, everything that happens is flagged up at least fifty pages in advance. And then there’s a hundred pages where actually nothing happens at all. I think it’s the perfect example of style overcoming substance.

Stylist Magazine

Sorry, I know it’s only been a few days since Davina, but I’m going to rant again. If you’re not in London, Brighton, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, French Connection stores or selected airport lounges, you won’t have come across Stylist, the free women’s magazine which is available in all of those places. It’s been going for a couple of months, and aside from the usual dross about losing weight and looking younger with £60 moisturisers, it seemed relatively inoffensive. Well, depending on how offensive you find the dross about losing weight and looking younger with £60 moisturisers. I suppose I find it more depressing than offensive, but I can’t say I blame the staff of the magazine, who after all can only do what their advertisers tell them.

But I do blame the staff of the magazine for the fact that, every week, there is at least one awful blunder which makes them look like they haven’t a clue what they’re doing. Because I am anal about grammar and style, and because it was the week before Christmas and I hadn’t much else to do, I actually emailed the editor last month and pointed out the three worst offenders in that week’s issue (“lightning” mis-spelled as “lightening”, a caption reading “who want’s to be an eco-warrior?” and an article on Sarah Jessica Parker that began, almost incomprehensibly, “As part of a generation that lived and breathed Sex And The City, few TV shows have had as much impact on us as those four Manhattanites.”)

It was a very polite email, though now I look at it again I notice I did say “you could begin by ditching Dawn Porter and replacing her with someone who can write”. Even so, I didn’t really expect a reply, and I didn’t get one. But I suppose I thought that somebody somewhere might have at least read it and thought “OK, let’s keep an eye out for obvious howlers”.

But clearly, no. Here is an extract from the editorial column in today’s issue.

To add to our misery (thanks a lot), scientists have used a formula to calculate the most depressing day of the year, taking into account weather, finances and motivation levels. They found it always falls on the third Monday in January – which is next week.

As this day of joy approaches, we’ve decided to rebrand Blue Monday. January 25 is now the day to book your dream holiday and swap your January blues for the azure shades of idyllic beaches.

Ahem. Did you spot the problem? Not the one about “Blue Monday” being a load of balls which lazy journalists like to rehash every year because it saves them from having to have an idea, but the one about how many Mondays there have been in January so far? Or indeed, the one about how many days have to have passed before it can be the 25th of a month?

Stylist magazine, you’re embarrassing me now. Please try harder.


Ocado gave me their customary free copy of the Times this weekend. I like the Times, and would probably buy it over – or as well as – the Guardian, if only it weren’t owned by that awful little man.

But reading an article on The Thick of It reminded me that the Guardian is still the only paper with a grown-up attitude towards swearing. When you’re printing long quotes from the script, asterisking out every other word renders it almost unreadable and stamps heavily on any humour that might have once lurked in the lines.

It also introduces an ambiguity about what was actually said, which in some cases makes it sound worse than it really is. The missing c-word in the quote below is actually “cock”, but the asterisk version allows the reader to infer an alternative which is much more unpleasant and a lot less funny:

“I will remove your iPod from its tiny nano-sheath, and push it up your c***. And then I’ll put some speakers up your a*** and put it on to ‘shuffle’ with my f****** fist…”

Thus the Times’s attempt at protecting our delicate sensibilities actually makes the joke more offensive. I would also hazard a guess that anyone interested in a piece about The Thick Of It can probably cope with a few swears.

A reply!

I’m pretty sure this is a form letter, but I’m nonetheless cautiously impressed to have received a reply from the Daily Mail today:

Thank you for your correspondence re the Jan Moir article. We welcome feedback-whether positive or negative- about the paper and our writers.
Our Columnist’s views have prompted a widespread response and debate. You may also be interested in the column by Janet Street-Porter in today’s edition.

Thank you for taking the trouble to send us your own  point of view.

Yours sincerely,
Managing Editor’s Office

I read the Janet Street Porter article and they were right, it was interesting. I’d still like to see a genuine apology from Jan Moir, but in the continuing absence of that it’s heartening to see that the paper is willing to publish a different view, and that the PCC is investigating last week’s piece. The Daily Mail will never become my newspaper of choice, and I’ve no doubt that they’ll continue to publish hateful opinions from people I disagree with, but it’s good to know that a  spontaneous response from so many people last week has actually resulted in action being taken. A small victory is still a victory.

“a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with”

That was Stephen Fry’s description on Twitter of Jan Moir, who has written this extraordinarily hateful piece in the Daily Mail today. I’ve just sent the Mail the following complaint. I’m not expecting a reply, but it’s made me feel better:

Shame on you for publishing today’s poisonous, under-informed, illiterate article on Stephen Gately by Jan Moir.

The circumstances of Gately’s death are still unclear. That being the case, speculation on Fleet Street may well be rife but there’s no excuse for making such unsubstantiated, homophobic and uneducated views public in a way that can only distress further the family and friends of the dead man.

There are many cases every year of sudden death in apparently healthy young people. The causes are myriad and it’s always devastating for those left behind. The only official indication we have of what caused Gately’s death suggests natural causes. But frankly, even if there were drink, drugs or sex involved, how on earth does Moir jump from that to her breathtaking claim that his sexuality or, unbelievably, his civil partnership, is to blame? It’s ungrounded, insulting and stupid.

And why on earth does she feel the need to be rude about Gately as a singer? What wrong has he done her to deserve this rancid poison, other than being a gay man? He had an unremarkable but perfectly good singing voice, so this:

A founder member of Ireland’s first boy band, he was the group’s co-lead singer, even though he could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk

is just spiteful and silly. And this:

He was the Posh Spice of Boyzone, a popular but largely decorous addition

demonstrates that Moir has no idea what the word “decorous” means. If you’re going to publish offensive drivel like this, then at least proofread it beforehand.

I was already reading in open-mouthed astonishment when I got to this gem:

After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards.

Actually it is extraordinarily disrespectful. Moir is making assumptions based on her own unreconstructed, stereotyped view of gay men. How dare she? And how dare you publish this rubbish?

I have no idea what goes on in what passes for Moir’s mind, but there’s no place for her seedy little fantasies in a piece published by a national newspaper.

Edit: if you feel the same way, complain to the PCC. The article breaches points 5 and 12 of the code of practice.
There’s also a good blog post on it here.


I’ve found myself ignoring the papers for the last couple of weeks, initially because I found the lurid coverage of Michael Jackson’s death distasteful, and then because I started to realise that I find most newspaper journalism distasteful. In Dublin a couple of months ago I picked up a copy of the Irish version of the Daily Mirror, which was almost identical to the UK edition except that the celebrity gossip pages on the inside were all about people I’d never heard of. But reading them, I noticed that the stories about Brian O’Driscoll and Amy Huberman have a very different slant from the ones we get over here about Jordan and Peter Andre. The Irish celebrities were granted respect and admiration – not quite in the cloying tones of Hello magazine, but with an underlying assumption that they were decent people who deserved their success. It was sweet and refreshing and I enjoyed it.

Contrast that with the snide attitude of the UK tabs, whose bile and bitterness is barely concealed whenever they have the opportunity to publish a story (or, more usually, a non-story) about one of our home grown celebs. Beware the pop star or soap actor who flashes some thigh as she steps out of a car, or goes to a party and – the horror – gets a bit drunk; for she (and it will almost always be she) will face the chastisement of our morally spotless guardians of the press the next day. It sunk to an especial low this week with a camera thrust down the modest cleavage of 19-year-old Hermione Granger Emma Watson as she battled with inclement weather at the Harry Potter premiere in Leicester Square. Really, is that the best we can do? It makes me wish there were a heaven so that the photographer who took that shot could line up with the 3am girls, the showbiz editors and every columnist ever and be asked to account for their actions at the ends of their lives.

St Peter: And what did you do?

Columnist: Well, I…sneered. And called people bad mothers, and drew attention to their weight gains.

St. Peter: Hmm. Anything else?

Columnist: I, I…well, I used my column to transfer small gripes and personal feuds onto the national stage.

<thunder, lightning bolt, columnist is never seen again>

But we all know that the gutter press is hateful. What I find more objectionable is the scarcely-concealed attempts of the “quality” papers to bump up their readership by focusing almost exclusively on sport and scandal. The MPs’ expenses row went on for six weeks longer than was necessary or interesting, and now the Guardian looks to be attempting to emulate the Telegraph’s success by creating a jumped-up nonstory over the News of the World’s attempts to bug the mobile phones of, well, just about anyone who sprung to mind. Now, I bow to no-one in my distaste for the way the NOTW conducts almost all of its affairs and I agree that it’s very much Not OK to bug people’s phones without their knowledge and for no demonstrable reason except to gather dirt. But of all the things which happened in the world this week, is that really the one we need to know about the most?

Of course, everybody gets their news on the internet now, so newspapers have had to start shouting and campaigning and resorting to whatever tricks they can concoct in order to shift copies. But I feel the loss of a time when the newspapers told me the news, and did it without feeling the need to pronounce on the character and motivations of everybody they report upon.

Plus, you know, journalists are the worst people in the world, so it’s hard to read their hectoring with any level of seriousness.

The horror

I would like to propose a moratorium on the use of emotive language in news reporting. I expect it from the tabs, but I don’t need proper news providers talking to me about “the tragic death of Baby P” or “a catastrophic drop in numbers of cuckoos”. Tell me the facts, and let me decide how tragic or catastrophic they are. Tell me about the preventable death of a child, or an unforeseen drop in numbers of  cuckoos, and let me choose where to place them on my own scale of tragedy. Give me the information, and allow me to make the value judgement.

Links for Easter Sunday

These aren’t Easter-related at all, they’re just topical articles which are worth reading. Two stories approaching the same issue from different angles, and an article by David Mitchell which I would like to stand up and applaud:

Why London is no place for a young black man

What is the right way to raise children? (Ignore the clumsy initial attempt to make this a battle between two approaches; as the article eventually acknowledges, there is a place for both)

I’ll tell you what really offends me: political opportunism