Yes that hot trolley dolly is ME
Two of my earliest loves died this week – Richie Havens died. Back when I was a teenager pretending to be deep into 1960s music, his rendition of Freedom on the Woodstock album did something to my mind and I fell in love with folk music sung by gruff soul voices. The second was more! magazine – which folded after 25 years in the game – the women’s fortnightly (latterly weekly) where I worked from 2000-2003 as first a Junior Writer, then just a Writer, always one of only a small spattering of manly faces in a very sexy womanly office. My time there might have been extended had I not resigned by accident during an unsuccessful one-on-one with a new editor who was there to whip everyone into shape – I said something flippant, she got the wrong end of the stick and thought I’d handed in my notice, so I thought fuck it, I’ll go with this. It was like chucking a big figurative log into the river of my career and allowing the ripples to take me from office to office to office to office, kind of like a Littlest Hobo, only considerably less loveable and often less useful. And smelling a bit too much like wet dog. God I’m amazing at imagery.
Anyway the point is I’ve worked in roughly a million offices since, buzzing with newspaper types thick with testosterone, or overflowing with electrifying speak and jargon that I don’t understand, and none can quite hold a candle to more! between 2000 and 2002, which spoilt me for laughter, camaraderie and inventiveness. It was a hub of great ideas and brilliant humour, and despite what people think there was much more to that glorious rag than just Position of the Fortnight (which was obviously always missionary or doggy from a different camera angle – what else is there??). It was a dream job for a young writer – I did things like dress up as a hot woman for the day to see what that was like, I dicked around with some unbelievably posh kids in Cornwall for a weekend, I auditioned to be a male stripper, I starred as a prison guard in Bad Girls, I became an air steward like Brian from Big Brother 2. I flew around the world, I interviewed famous celebrities – on a couple of occasions they walked out on me, on one occasion I walked out on them. I became a professionally trained lawman called Judge Josh who would decide punishments for misbehaving boyfriends whilst wearing an old fashioned wig. I went to the Phoenix Bar on Charing Cross Road, I spent long afternoons laughing it up in The Victoria near Mornington Crescent. On occasion I’d pretend to look through a box of CDs under my desk while secretly having a nap. It was great. But then, sometime in 2002, something happened that gradually transformed me into a very bad fit for the magazine I loved working on. People in suits started just appearing in the office like a mundane hallucination.
We’d heard about these “big cheeses” through the grapevine, they lived a few floors up in bigger snazzier apartments, and people would occasionally report glimpses of them in the communal lift, or you’d spot them fingering and handjobbing one another at company parties. Their floor in the building was bursting with the smell of perfume and fresh flowers they said, women with hair that was so pristine, straight and so shiny it was like liquid gold. If you went up there you could hear them saying “sure” to each other over and over again into eternity. Yet suddenly they’d decided to descend a few floors to roam our dirty little quarters like masters of the house demanding to try the soup, and whenever they spoke to me my confidence drained, my hands would tremble and I’d laugh like a maniac until they went away. Were they going to put me in a cage like a caged monkey? What did they want?
To answer the first question, they wanted to put me in a cage. Specifically me (and the rest of the editorial team). This magazine stuff was about big business now. They arranged the staff into a semi-circle so they could confuse us with sales figures, and they told us that from now on we must have big bold numbers on our magazine covers. That’s what people responded to. Why would anyone want to read a NUMBERLESS magazine? We all nodded. Hands went up. What about 129? Great number, very good. Is 312 too much? No way, 312 is barely even enough! My tremoring hand darted skyward – how’s three, the magic number? NO JOSH, THREE IS RIDICULOUS! You’d need to times that by ten, and then probably times that again by two. People wanted BIG numbers. I blushed so hard my left eyeball popped out. I pushed it in again, and digested what they were saying. They wanted numbers that related to THINGS, things that people could look at. Like pictures mainly. And that wasn’t all.
Turns out they’d also been arranging clandestine meetings behind our backs – all two-way mirrors, bottles of whiskey, and women in pencil skirts wearing shoes that could kill you (I don’t know, I have no idea how focus groups work). They’d held these meetings to ask bog standard members of the public how they felt about our beloved magazine. Did they like it? Was there anything they’d change? Was it time to put an erect penis on the cover? Talking of which were we featuring enough Victoria Beckham for them? We really weren’t cutting the mustard, they said. Not enough celebrities and way too many words. We’d need to get to the point quicker. More numbers, massive pictures and less words. The small friendly magazine was suddenly being steered by big ruthless businesspeople with enormous balls and nice juicy boobs, and the public had spoken. Lightbulbs exploded all over the place, craniums pulsated like pistons in some kind of large industrial factory, and the dice men decided to switch positions brazenly and suddenly, taking the power to inform the readership away from the magazine and flipping it 180 so that the readership informed us what we should be doing. It was a bold move that you just can’t come back from. And I’m not sure anyone ever did.
As time passed and I travelled from place to place like a sexy gunslinger (only much less cool) it turned out this was happening absolutely everywhere, not just at more! magazine. Less words, less pages, more celebrities, bigger pictures, NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS. These new rules had become part of the DNA, and while the ship was temporarily steadied, sadly I’m pretty sure the rot had already set in, slowly transforming these big brash beautiful magazines bursting with ideas into skinny apologetic houseguests draped on your coffee table really not wanting to be any trouble. It’s a genuine genuine shame and if I had my way we’d all say SOD IT and up the word count, scrap the numbers, shrink the pictures, make no money, and put the kibosh on gargantuan images of Kim Kardashian and her extraterrestrial figure-of-8 body.
Which is precisely why I’m not a magazine editor.
RIP more! magazine. You will always be one of my top three places to work. Now here’s me as a chick: