Notebook: 24 April 2016 | MAGAZINES
Last week I had a business meeting at The Royal Academy on Piccadilly. Afterwards I had some time to kill and so I decided to walk from Piccadilly back to Liverpool Street before catching my train home to Norfolk. I would go via the MagCulture shop in Clerkenwell and pick up some new indie magazines. I love to walk, especially in a city because you get to see, hear and smell things that you’d miss in a car or on the underground. Often your knowledge and mental mapping of a city is based on areas that you know well – such as your home and place of work plus the thin transport route that connects the two – but you never really get to know the areas in between unless you venture out on foot to explore.
I headed down (up?) Piccadilly towards the Circus. In front of me a smartly groomed business woman was striding out and puffing on a cheroot and for a moment I enjoyed the whiff of the tobacco. I took a left and cut across Regent Street and ventured into Soho. Thirty years ago this had been my old stomping ground and I still knew the streets well although now they were much busier than ever before and there seemed to be a restaurant on every corner. I zig-zagged through the lunchtime crowds to Broadwick Street. The old 1980s block that I’d worked in for five years had recently been torn down and another office block was springing up in its place. But I was pleased to see that the Victorian public lav’ was still there although surrounded by a hoarding. Once upon a time I’d chained my bicycle to its railings and after one too many beers had struggled to find the key to my padlock, and a policeman, thinking I was trying to steal it, had marched me off to Vine Street ‘nick’…
Pressing on I cut through Soho Square and emerged onto the hustle, bustle and ugliness of the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street. Dodging the buses and tourists I escaped down Great Russell Street and passed the British Museum. 25 years absence from London had blunted my memory of which streets led where but I knew that Clerkenwell was in a rough north-easterly direction. I crossed Southampton Row, squeezed down Cosmo Place and popped out into the relative calm of Queen Square. I passed a hospital and a pale child in a wheelchair and, as I paused at the end of Great Ormond Street wondering whether to go left or right, the sound of young voices singing drifted from over the rooftops. They were belting out the National Anthem and I suddenly remembered that it was the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Leaving the order and elegance of Bloomsbury behind me I crossed Gray’s Inn Road. To my left loomed a rather ugly and out of place Holiday Inn and to my right stretched the Mount Pleasant mail sorting office complex enclosed by a high perimeter fence. Once I was beyond the pounding traffic of Farringdon Road I slipped down a side street and found myself in Wilmington Square. This was more like it: elegant, late Georgian terraces, plane trees and an attractive Victorian pavilion. I cut across the square and exited via Merlin Street passing the powerful red brick facade of Charles Rowan House which was built in the late 1920s for policemen and their families. It’s an imposing 5-storey tenement block with huge chimney stacks that look like battlements. I ventured through an archway into the inner courtyard. There were cheery balconies decked with plants, washing drying in the sun and the hum of life echoing around the yard. And there was a comforting smell of food frying. It reminded me of the film set from Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Back on the street I meandered through to Roseberry Avenue, passed the Sadler’s Wells Theatre and finally reached 270 St John Street and the MagCulture shop. The shop which is run by the designer, author and magazine guru Jeremy Leslie probably sells the best range of independent magazines anywhere in the UK. I’ve written about magCulture before on my blog and you can read and see more here and here. Other good stop-offs for indie mags are Wardour News at 118 Wardour Street in Soho and magma in Covent Garden, Clerkenwell and Manchester.
MagCulture’s shelves are lined with 300 or so magazines. On my last visit I’d come away with a rucksack full of sweet smelling print but this time, under instruction from Gilburt not to spend too much, I was more selective.
I bought the latest issue (no. 6) of Penguin’s fabulous The Happy Reader (pictured above) for its finely crafted typography (this still remains my favourite magazine of the moment – click on the links to read my reviews of issue no. 2 and no. 5.) and then my eye was caught by another smaller publication with an intriguing title: I had stumbled across ELSEWHERE: A Journal of Place. This was of course, exactly my kind of mag – all about exploring a sense of ‘place’ – on foot. The publishers’ introduction to the journal – their Letter from Elsewhere – summed it up as follows: ‘Walking brings the explorer … into the heart of a place, closer than is possible through the window of a vehicle … and yet with a movement that allows them the sense of being an outsider, of being an observer’. Like The Happy Reader, ELSEWHERE is a magazine to spend time with – a longer read to snuggle down with. The design is clean and unobtrusive and blue and grey drawings by the magazine’s creative director Julia Stone, are used to illustrate each article or ‘place’. In issue no. 3, places featured include Belfast, Berlin, Trieste and Faversham Creek amongst others. And there’s an attractive photo essay of European underground train stations in the centre section (pictured below). MagCulture themselves, wrote a very good review of issue no. 2 and you can read that here.
Before heading off down St John Street I picked up a copy of the free foodie magazine Root + Bone (pictured below). It’s a quarterly mag and they’re on to issue 9 which is packed full of goodies such as articles on the best fish and chips in London, feeding refugees, cooking in Calais and Vegemite v Marmite, plus loads of reviews. As it’s a free mag, it’s printed ‘self-cover’ on dirt cheap newsprint with a couple of staples holding it all together, but for me, that all adds to its appeal. If you want to find out more about Root + Bone, take a look at their website and this review of issue no. 4 by Stack magazines.
With an eye on the clock I cut through to the noisy Goswell Road. This is the tip of the tail of the A1 – the longest road in Britain that runs down from Edinburgh and pierces through into the very heart of London to stop abruptly at St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s no escaping the brutalist Barbican Centre which overshadows this district. I walked through Fortune Street Park and the noise of the traffic was replaced by a cheerful multi-cultural babble of children pouring out of school. Then it was on past the old Whitbread brewery in Chiswell street where Gilburt’s uncle, John Ball and grandfather Harry Ball had once worked, past Finsbury Square and then into the Broadgate development and Liverpool St station.
Once on the train, I settled down to read ELSEWHERE and for ten minutes or so I was transported to nighttime Berlin… Outside the window, the fields and muddy creeks of Manningtree flashed by and then we were into Norfolk and home…