Saturday, 4 February 2012


It’s six thirty and we’re finally in a pub.

The Tipperary
The Tipperary is a bit of a disappointment, and as Irish pubs go, it’s about as memorable as a Presbyterian wake. But at least it’s a pub.

To be fair, it’s the first real disappointment of our Fleet Street walk, devised and guided by Michael Williams, whose journalistic career began in the street in ‘71 as a junior reporter at the London office of the Liverpool Daily Post.

Michael’s entertaining and informative pre-walk notes very much gave the impression that the day would be a long, boozy affair revolving around famous watering landmarks of the glory days described as the “Mecca of journalism” by Francois Nel, the Uclan Director of Leaders Programme, who accompanies us on the tour.

Not so - things aren’t what they used to be. Gone are the days of “Lunchtime O’Booze” and lunches Michael confessed to “…consisting of three bottles of champagne, two bottles of Margaux, half a bottle of Graves (and a small amount of food)”.

Portland Place - Home of the BBC
It’s off to the BBC first. David Hayward and Roxanna Shapour, from the BBC World Service, meet us outside Broadcasting House in Portland Place.

“Hey, love the glasses,” Roxanna teases Michael. She tells us that from October this year, the entire BBC will be run from either Portland Place or Salford. Left to ponder this outside the Beeb, as Roxanna gives us chapter and verse on the BBC World Service, I find myself concluding that the glasses are a little too Hockneyesque for old Fleet Street.

Cleared for security, we’re ushered into the Persian newsroom where we go largely unnoticed amid a burble of subdued research and negotiation. A broadcast to the Middle East is taking place with the grandiose fa├žade of Langham’s hotel as a backdrop.

Outside, Neil the floor manager describes his role choreographing live broadcasts. It reminds me of why I gave up teaching. “…trying to keep them in order in there is a bloody nightmare,” he says.

I’m at a loss to understand why the BBC broadcasts to Persia at all, where it’s considered a crime of treason to tune in. Reuters are only permitted a foothold in order to generate news wires on the condition that they don’t feed them to the BBC.  Roxanna tells us that no one’s actually been arrested for transgressing but many have been brought in for questioning.

I ask Francois why we bother and he explains that the World Service was funded by the Foreign Office until recently but now it comes out of the BBC’s budget. I’m left to wonder whether this is education or subjugation, but according to the Iranian government’s own figures, over 25 million tune in, so it reaches a wider audience than the Simpsons or Family Guy. Understandably, it is not easy to validate viewing figures when admitting to owning a satellite dish, let alone confessing to watching BBC, may land you in jail.

The Arabic channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and serves 22 countries in the Middle East. The impressive facilities include a green screen - the only other one in the UK is in Ireland but they haven’t worked out how to install it yet. Green side up, I’d say.

After an over-priced sandwich we’re off to the Daily Telegraph offices in Victoria. Copies of The Telegraph, founded in 1855, was first sold for sixpence but shortly after its launch the government of the day removed Stamp Duty – referred to as “a tax on knowledge”- on newspapers.  By 1865, now priced at a penny, it had a circulation of 480,000.

Our guide is Fleet Street veteran George Mewhey-Buvlle who has worked for the Telegraph for 47 years. The paper has relocated twice, he tells us, first from Fleet Street to Canary Wharf, where the offices were too vertical – horizontal is best for a newspaper – then to its current home in Victoria.

“The Telegraph had moved in the past but hadn’t moved on”, says Mewhey-Buvlle, “but now you come in each Monday to find something different. The success of a newspaper,” he adds,  “is defined by a good circulation, a good rate card and better commercial orientation than your competitors. Nowadays you have to be as multi-faceted as possible. Life is ‘swim upstream’. Dead ones float down with it’”. I had a feeling that George, who appears to be more Bill Deeds than Bill Swim-Upstream, is a little uneasy with modern management-speak. I ponder whether I would be a swimmer or a floater in these magnificent settings which include a gym, spacious rest and dining areas, but – reflecting the times – no bar that I can see.

Mark Skegworth edits the Saturday Telegraph and takes up the baton from George: “I think it’s a really good time in terms of general re-structuring of the industry,” he says, adding that the road to Fleet Street has veered away from the traditional proving ground of the regional newspaper. This still exists today but is less viable, with most young journalists lucky enough to get a start coming through the university pathway.

“To quote the old football manager’s clique,” he says, “There’s a blend of youth and experience”. Funny – but on the way out I only clock one bloke over the age of 40.

Mid-afternoon and we’re off to the Blue Fin Building, home of IPC, in Southwark Street. On the winter streets of the capital’s commercial heart, it’s “… the violet hour, when the eyes and back turn upward from the desk, and when the human engine waits like a taxi throbbing, waiting”.

The Blue Fin Building - home of IPC Magazines
But in the Blue Fin building, Eliot’s parody of late afternoon desk-life winding down towards the debauched vacuity of early evening is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we’re in a conference room, being greeted by former Uclan starlet Lauren O’Callaghan, winner of the prodigious IPC Graduate Scheme placement last year.

Five o’clock and there’s still not the faintest sniff of an alcoholic drink, but iced juice and a coffee are welcome. Lauren talks us through her journey to Southwark Street and gives advice on work placements: “I worked my ass off in the interview…people can always tell when you’ve put a lot into it,” she says. “As a student, you have a perception of what it would be like to work in an office. The thing that surprised me was that the teams aren’t as big as you thought they’d be.”

The Blue Fin Building is home to 67 titles, divided into three wings. Connect, specialises in women and home publications. Inspire deals with men’s magazines and entertainment, and South Bank is the division that produces the high-end glossies, such as Marie Claire and Homes and Gardens.

“And on your placement,” says Lauren, summing up, “Show that you’re willing to put the effort in and not moan.”

Brett Lewis is a print designer by trade but is currently the Group Creative Director for IPC. The arrival of the App – and there I was thinking that an app is something you pointed at a plane to see where it’s going, or that told you when the next bus is due – has changed everything.

Brett shows us his one-shot David Bowie (The Ultimate Musical Guide) app. This is a smorgasbord of video, musical clips, text, and multi-layered rich content on a digital hybrid platform with everything that you could possibly want embedded.

But I’m still a bit confused as to what exactly an app is and why my life is incomplete without one, until Brett tells us precisely why IPC are stoned in love with the things: “While print sold 8,000 in four weeks, the digital version sold 4,000 in three months and is continuing to sell at 1,000 per month”. This means a longer shelf life – except, of course, shelves don’t exist any more.

It’s a whole new world. The trouble about not being young any more is that just as soon as you’ve got a broad understanding of how something works, along comes something else and you have to start all over again.  Back in the ‘80s, I loved Spandau Ballet. I thought that it would never be possible for anyone to make better music.  And then along came Oasis and my New Romanticism went west.

Next we’re off on a tour of the shop floor. Everything is open plan and only a ceiling marker board seperates Nuts from Woman’s Weekly. I have no difficulty in locating Horse & Hound, where I’m hoping to be whipped into shape in March. A bale of hay marks the threshold of their territory but there’s no clear delineation where theirs ends and Eventing’s begins – no stable door to bolt nor puissance wall to jump. There’s no one here for me to introduce myself to, as Thursday’s edition goes to print today and they’re all locked into final editorial tweaking.

I find Rugby World, who I write a weekly on-line column for, but there’s no one here either – maybe they’re all in the sin bin.

And that concludes our visit to the Blue Fin but with it comes the realisation that we haven’t actually reached Fleet Street yet.

It’s just a short walk away; because of building work we forego the quickest route across the Millennium Bridge, but cross further upstream and make our way to the Tipperary and a welcome pint of Guinness. It doesn’t touch the sides.

Reflecting on an excellent day over a second pint of the black stuff, as Francois patiently explains how Twitter works, I’m reminded of an incident on our way to Southwark Street. Finding myself in a tube carriage with Francois, I ask about the political situation in his homeland, South Africa. Such is his enthusiasm for describing the denouements of the post-apartheid political balance that we almost miss our station. We would have, in fact, had I not put my 15 stone frame to good use and busted out of the closing carriage door, much to the annoyance of London Transport officialdom, from whom we received a severe tannoyed admonishment.  Oddly enough, my fellow students found this most amusing.

Our group disperses and so I cross the road to the Old Cheshire Cheese, which serves a decent pint of bitter for £2.40 and a roast beef dinner for under a tenner. Back in the day, Sun journalists were reputed to have thrown darts at the landlady’s poodle. Slightly less worthy of mention is the fact that, amongst other literary heavyweights, Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson drank here.

There are no poodles, literary greats nor even a Sun journalist here today.

The “Mecca of Journalism” has long since dispersed, “and their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors departed, have left no addresses”.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


The latest figures show that men are finally getting into sex toys. Richard Grainger asks if a vibrator for your man is the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day, or is a male adult product still a little bit grubby.
We’ve all heard about boys’ toys - fast cars, performance motorbikes, and the latest communications gadgets, but male sex toys are rapidly becoming another massive market designed to give men outstanding pleasure in a variety of ways.
Stephen Hackett is a former bank manager turned website designer – nothing too sensational there. However, Hackett’s internet prowess, coupled with a repressed entrepreneurial spirit, led to the launch of Venus Sales Ltd., trading as Temptations Direct, on online supplier of adult products.

Founded in 2002, Temptations Direct started off as a small family enterprise operating out of a spare bedroom. The company now has an annual turnover of £400,000 and employs four members of staff at its new base in the Imex Centre, Redditch, Worcestershire.

Who framed Roger Rabbit?
Sales of sex toys for women have soared over the past decade, as they have increasingly become more comfortable talking openly about their use. The infamous episode from Sex and the City – referred to as The Turtle and the Hare - wherein Roger the rabbit vibrator received much exposure, challenged Ann Summers and other adult retail outlets to meet the demand for this new urge.

Depending on where you look, figures suggest that anywhere between one in three women up to as many as 90 per cent of women, own at least one sex toy.

Hackett believes that the huge growth in sales that the industry has seen in recent years, has actually been helped by the recession. “People are now making different choices”, says Hackett. “Instead of going out for a meal and a few drinks, they stay in with a bottle of wine, dress up, or whatever takes their fancy and experiment sexually with some of the terrific products that are on the market. It’s a very exciting trend, and demand is massive at the moment.”

However it was through the anonymity of the web, which permits the purchaser to sidestep the embarrassment of a shop purchase, that the market for adult products boomed.

In addition to market-leader Ann Summers, companies such as Temptations Direct, Passion8, and LoveHoney have enjoyed a year-on-year hike in sales for toys that appeal to women, couples and the new growth market – men.

However, while sex toys for women have historically aroused a respectable level of curiosity, products for men have always been considered as, well… rather grubby.

According to Nel Johnson, a sex therapist from Pembroke Dock, there is still a perception that a woman will use a toy to satisfy her needs impersonally and without the need to resort to an extra-marital affair. A man, on the other hand (pardon the pun) is perceived as using a toy because he cannot persuade a woman to have sex with him.

Men are reluctant to talk about sex toys, “Just try asking a bunch of blokes down the pub what’s their favourite masturbator and see what reaction you get”, says Johnson, “The silence will be deafening”.

So I did - but to be fair - not in South Wales where I feared the answer to this question, if indeed there was one, may involve sheep.

Instead, I held an impromptu and informal focus group in my local pub. Most of the men I surveyed denied any knowledge of their existence, although Marcus, an accountant from Macclesfield, admitted to tickling his scrotum with his wife’s vibrator on one occasion, when she was at the bridge club.

The Autoblow Blast - thumbs up from Bob, aged 74.
I was about to conclude that Johnson was right when Bob, from the Bramhall butcher’s shop, cleared his throat and quietly said, “I'm not a young guy at 74, and at my age it's difficult to get women to have sex -believe it or not. I read some Autoblow Blast reviews, and decided to buy one. I've had better blowjobs – that's for sure – but none given to me by a machine!”

Johnson was right about one thing – the silence was deafening.

I decided to find out what sort of devices were on offer to tempt men to put their toe in the water (so to speak) and had a look on the web. Here I found a veritable Pandora’s box of male toys to get him off and products to get him on.
A young Master Bator
From masturbators to sophisticated blowjob machines - such as the one endorsed by Bob; from authentic artificial vaginas such as the SnatchLite or the Seamen’s Penis Pump, to simpler devices such as cock rings, butt plugs, and sensual lubes. I even found The Fun Factory Cobre Libre - a vibrator designed for men, billed as the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. And in keeping with other trends in the manufacturing economy, it’s no surprise that 70 per cent of these products are manufactured in China.
Still in the dark? - Well here's a Fleshlight - but don't try to
find your way home with it!
According to Hackett, male toys are no longer a taboo subject; they are imaginative, creative, and incredibly sensual. Male toy technology continues to advance rapidly as more money is pumped (literally) into a $15 billion market growing by 30 per cent each year.
Temptations Direct ( have published their top ten bestsellers for December 2011 and this year, for the first time, their best selling product was a toy aimed at men: The Animal Handy Vagina – three words that I would not have expected to have seen placed together in that order.

The rabbit vibrator, which over the years has won more pole positions than Michael Schumacher, was relegated to fourth place.

The full top ten is as follows:
The Animal Handy Vagina
1.         The Animal Handy Vagina
2.         ID Sensual Glide Lubricant
3.         Soft Bondage Set
4.         Jessica Rabbit Vibrator
5.         Sparkle Sex Toy Cleaner
6.         Multispeed Bully Boy Vibrator
7.         Screaming O RingO
8.         Super Slik Lub
9.         Bondage Tape
10.       Vibrating Oro Stimulator

"We've known for a long time that men enjoy using sex toys,” says Hackett, “the problem is getting them to admit to it. There still seems to be a shame element associated with a man owning and using such a toy."

Lubricants and toy cleaner were other unexpected top sellers for the Christmas period. Hackett explains, "The popularity of the lubricants doesn't entirely surprise me. We have been bestowing the virtues of a good quality lubricant for some time and it seems that our customers are taking on board our advice. Keeping your toy clean can help the toy to last longer and in these days of financial difficulties customers are looking to ensure their purchase lasts as long as possible. So it makes sense for our customers to buy toy cleaner".

Ah well, you can take the man out of the bank, but you can’t entirely take the bank out of the man.

Friday, 9 December 2011


Time line:
This is a very quick example of a timeline...Time Line


Cowboys and Indians is a black comedy set in South Armagh during the Troubles. Double agent "Fishknife" has one final assignment to escape his past and pocket £5.5m
John Harris has unique skills. Aged 17 and disaffected with life, he opts for a career as an IRA terrorist. 

Diffident and cold, he soon becomes the perfect killing machine. Then he meets Ellen, the niece of the head of the PIRA and falls in love her. He is led to believe that she - and their child - were assassinated by Special Branch.

But when he finds out that he has been used and lied to, he becomes a double agent working for the MI6 sanctioned Force Research Unit.

Given the codename “Fishknife”; he becomes the harbinger for death and destruction across the province in a British Government sanctioned blood-fest.

But the Good Friday Agreement makes him redundant. He passes his time working as a Life Coach for former terrorists, writing erotic fiction under a pseudonym and his Saturday nights as a ‘70s disco DJ.

And then he receives the phone call he has been waiting for.

To claim the £5.5 million in a Gibraltar bank account, he must assassinate Sir John Stephenson, whose report is about to reveal who he is and expose the depths to which the British Government sunk during The Troubles.

Before, that is, they can assassinate him.

cowboys and indians by maverick writer

Sunday, 4 December 2011


The Public Sector industrial action has polarised the country in a manner not seen since Scargill and Thatcher locked horns in '84.

Should people with jobs and pensions go on strike to protect their own interests when there are millions who have neither a job nor a pension? We are facing maybe 10 years of austerity - where is the money going to come from? Have your say on the strike action.

Last Wednesday Jeremy Clarkson ruffled a few feathers on The One Show. What did you think of his comments? Please click on the link below (I finally managed to load it to my blog, but Word Press is still stubbornly resisting; it would have been quicker to hand write the survey 22 times and post it to each of you, but that's technology for you).

Thanks very much for doing this.

Yea right...

Thanks very much to all of the five of yis who contributed to this survey! And very little thanks to the rest of yis who couldn't be arsed! No Christmas pressies for you lot!

Anyway, enough of the vitriol; I mean haven't we all get enough to do with coursework, partying, buying Christmas pressies without filling in some silly feckin' survey that takes about 2 nano feckin'  seconds to do?

So here's a chart showing what the five of yis thought about hisself's comments on The One Show, and what yis think about the strikers themselves. Not very representative, mind, but at least it's job done.

Have a good one, and don't bother asking me to fill in yer feckin' survey next time!

By the way, this counts as a Christmas card, so don't expect to get another one.

PS. This post will probably fail me the course, but I've had to have some light relief after four feckin' hours of trying to get my voice onto the internet.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A thief in the night…

I unlock the front door to find a diminutive but devastatingly beautiful uniformed Crime Scene Investigator dangling her identity badge for me to inspect.

“I’d better check that”, I say, “you’re way too pretty to be a copper”. She smiles at me, as I usher her in.

Actually I don’t and she doesn’t – but I think it, and that at least means a valve for something approaching humour is loosening the anger I’ve lived with for the past 14 hours, since my life was turned upside down.

It only takes her a minute to conclude that there’s no point in dusting the place for prints or looking for smoldering cigarette butts or whatever forensic people do. It may be a crime scene, but as crime scenes go, it’s not worth circling the wagons for.

I tell her that her colleague, when he had called for my statement last night had told me to be very careful not to touch any door handles until they had been dusted. And how, when he left, he had grabbed the outer handle and pulled the front door shut behind him. She roars with laughter revealing a mouthful of metal fillings. I wonder if they’re copper.

Now, here’s a challenge for my Uclan cohort: let’s see how many crimes you can name that I was the victim of last night. And for a bonus point, add the recommended custodial sentence for each. First correct answer sent via Twitter, Facebook or email wins you a bottle of champagne.

I’d returned to my flat at around seven, having eaten my first solid meal for three days; spaghetti bolognaise, cooked by my girlfriend, Jane – delicious. I’m much too old to have a girlfriend, but partner…well, I don’t know…it just doesn’t sound right; makes us sound like a couple of raddled old queers.

Anyway, I digress.

I was in for the night, and so I lock the front door, finish a piece I was writing for Rugby World and was enjoying Dirty Harry and a hot chocolate when Jane rings. She was on the way back from her writing group and wanted to call in for a glass of wine. That’d be nice, I say, and when she arrives at 9.30, I unlock the door to let her in.

If she’d been intending to stay for any length of time, I’d have locked it behind her, but for reasons that I won’t bore you with, I knew that her visit would be brief.

We enter the living room, off the landing at the top of the stairs. I pour her a glass of wine and reluctantly swap Clint and his .44 Magnum  (…“I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”  - again I digress) for Jeremy Paxman and University Challenge.

It’s a bit cold, so I go to the kitchen, which is next to the living room, turn the heating on and close the living room door – something I rarely do.

Mid-way through University Challenge we both hear a noise – or think we do. Being old, my hearing isn’t terrific - although there still are enough instances where I wish it was worse. I link my television to the stereo, and with a large speaker on either side of the room it throws sound about a bit, so naturally we attributed the curious noise we had noticed to the stereo.

Around 11.15, Jane goes to leave so I accompany her down the stairs and open the door.

“Where’s your car?” she asks.

My middle-aged toy - off to Eastern Europe
It’s a simple enough question but it my eyes won’t tell my brain that no amount of goggling will bring it back.

It has gone.

“Did you leave the keys in it?”

“No – I’m not stupid.”


“Sure I’m sure or sure I’m not stupid?”

“Sure you’re sure?”


“Did you leave them on the ledge inside the door?”


Ditto the above sequence of questions.

We look in my bedroom; the key’s not there, and neither is my wallet. For a moment I think I may have left my wallet in the glove compartment but then remember I’d used my debit card to book a hotel room, replacing the wallet on the dresser beside my car keys and my watch…

“Shit! They’ve taken my fucking watch too…”

“You mean my fucking watch…”

Either way, the Georg Jensen £1000 silver watch has gone along with my keys and wallet.

I call the police and we stand and pathetically try to find some sort of logical explanation for what’s happened.

I mean, surely, someone didn’t walk in the front door, climb the stairs, go into my bedroom and help themselves to my car keys, wallet and watch. Her watch, Jane points out.

Shit! What if I’d opened the living room door as they were coming out of the bedroom? I would have been between them and the stairs, cutting off their escape route? What if they’d been carrying a knife or a gun? I mean, they must be pretty fucking desperate to have the balls to walk straight onto someone’s house, when they knew there were at least two people in the living room?

Maybe they were high on drugs? What if they had a knife or a gun and were high on drugs? Fuck me! One of us would have been killed, and it wouldn’t have been me I say bravely, now that the intruder’s gone.

We were lucky!

Or were we?

No…not lucky. I’m angry – mainly angry at myself for leaving the door unlocked and for being so fucking stupid as to fail to recognize that I was inviting a thief in the night to come in, enter my bedroom, heap themselves to my stuff and make off in my car.

I certainly won’t be making that mistake again!

Thursday, 10 November 2011



Within 24 hours, I’ve had my dreams of being a successful magazine journalist shattered.

It’s nothing to do with efficacy; I believe I’ll get there in the end. It’s just the realization of what I’ll have to do to get there.

Now before you say that I’m much too old, too chunky (I refuse to call myself fat) and too dull to sleep my way to the top, that isn’t exactly what I mean.

This dissonance began with a visiting speaker at Uclan on Wednesday. Alumni of the university, Rob Crossan is now a successful freelancer specializing in travel writing. He had four years at Front magazine but managed to wean himself off “lads mags” and regularly gets features in the broadsheets.
Sounds great – if he can do it then so can I. Then what’s the problem?

The problem is that to be a travel writer you have to sell your soul to the devil. It works like this:
You come up with an idea for a story, which is finding a “peg” to visit some exotic location where you fancy a holiday; anywhere, really, other than Scotland or Wales. You then think of a really clever angle – or better still, six or seven clever angles so that you can sell your feature to six or seven different publications. Nothing wrong so far, is there?

Next, you get a commissioning editor to say: “Great – that would sit really well in our travel section!” You will, of course, somehow have to put those words into his mouth.

So off you go to that exotic location to research and write your commissioned piece at the publication’s expense? Wrong.

Very, very few publications will consider paying your expenses. Ever. Not even your bus fare home from their offices.

And your piece, brilliant though it may be, will earn you anywhere from £130 (e.g. TNT magazine) to £750 (e.g. The Times or Telegraph) so that’s not going to cover a fortnight in Cape Town.

To fund your trip, you will have to beg. You will have to go cap in hand to airlines, travel PR companies, tourist boards and blag the bits and pieces that will make your trip feasible without causing insolvency.

And in return for that, the airlines, resorts, restaurants, tourist guides, theme parks and anyone else who opens their doors to you free of charge, will expect you to write something about them; something nice about them.

The simplest way to do this is to add them to the “how to get there” footnote part of your piece. That’s works well for airlines, as it draws attention to a destination that travellers may not know about, and may open up a new market for them.

However, the problem is that if you say in your piece that the destination was awful and really no one should go there in a fair, objective and balanced manner, no one will buy a seat on the plane bound for your destination.
Furthermore, you
will seriously piss off the PR people, the country or region’s tourist board and anyone who felt the fallout of your wholly unbiased feature.

Let TripAdvisor do that, if you want to be a successful travel journalist – and by that I mean one who gets to go places at other people’s expense – you have to write what us referred to in the trade as a “snow job”. That is, to say how wonderful everything was and why everyone should spend their lives’ savings to go there.

So that’s travel writing out, then – I just can’t do that. I actually like to find things that are rubbish and write about them.  If I have a meal in a restaurant that is inedible and they service is dreadful, I cannot bring myself to praise it.

Well that’s part one of my disillusionment.

Now, for no better reason than I have to put it somewhere, I’m going to add a video clip of me grumpily reading some news.

I have to do this for the Digital Content part of my MA so it might as well go here as anywhere.
Please ignore the fact that it has absolutely no relevance to this blog and enjoy it for what it is – a very amateurish piece of multi-media.

Part two of my disillusionment tale will be coming right up. Enjoy.