Work experience

The format which works so well - are we sure the readership isn't female?

The format which works so well - are we sure the readership isn't female?

Last week when I interviewed the editor and production editor of Men’s Health (MH), both men were optimistic about the future of their magazine. And so they should be. In February this year they reported a 4.1 per cent increase in the latest ABC figures, and earlier this week they were nominated for four PPA awards including editor of the year – an award Rees won in 2007 – and consumer title of the year. MH is clearly succeeding where other men’s mags are failing, abysmally.

So what is the secret to such success?

“Service journalism,” says editor, Mogan Rees, “What that means is the information we put on the page is useful and actionable.” Substance over style is Rees’ mantra and it shows: MH has a very distinct look from which it rarely deviates. The word utilitarian is too strong since there is great use of graphics and stylised photos.

But the classic cover design of a buff, shirtless model shot in black in white, and set off by red and blue coverlines, is recognisable from month to month. While it may seem to cover the same ground each issue, Rees insists the content is new, “We have to get it [the cover] right, more than most. The image does not change much so selling the content becomes absolutely paramount. The coverlines may sound the same but the content and science behind them changes every month.”

Rees has had more than his fair share of experience in the style sector too. Before MH he worked on Loaded, GQ, and Jack – all of which he enjoyed. But he knew the time was right for change when he found himself spending more and more time negotiating with celebs to pose on the front cover.

It would seem Rees’ waning enthusiasm for men’s lifestyle magazines coincided with a nationwide sentiment much the same. In the last few months, Arena has folded, Maxim UK has gone online only and Loaded, FHM, Zoo and Nuts have all suffered from declining circulation. “The idea of a men’s lifestyle magazine is still relatively new. Before that there were specialist titles. What we are seeing now is a return to that form. If a magazine has a clearly defined remit it will do well in the current climate,” says Rees.

Production editor, Tom Stone, has a slightly different rationale as to why MH is doing well, “Health and fitness is a subject that appeals more to the older age bracket, which ties in with the magazine buying public. People buying magazines are getting older.” Stone recognises that the younger generation access information online whereas before they would have looked to magazines. But he also thinks it is possible to pull readers in from your website, if you make it good enough.

Here again, MH is excelling. This stems from the fact that their subject area is easily clubbable. The MH forums are choc-a-bloc with threads of conversations between members. These range from chats about the best place to get the season’s en vogue protein shake to discussions on, believe it or not, the key philosopher’s works for a novice to start with. With 697, 000 unique users each month the online community at MH is not to be sniffed at.

But that is not to say the MH team are resting on their laurels.

“I want to make MH complete” says Rees, “what we have done in the last six years [since he started] is expand the remit of the magazine. It used to only deal with sex and abs. These days it deals with psychology, work/life balance, career progression, parenting, you name it.”

And where does Stone see MH in the next five years?

“It will be the number one men’s monthly magazine. It will be the market leader. I expect it will have a lot more imitators – other magazines trying to do the same thing. The lad’s mags are over. It is the time for the useful magazine.”

Testosterone fuelled, cocky, high expectations? Maybe, but with Rees and Stone at the helm there seems no reason why these should not be realised.

Oh that wonderful maze

Oh that wonderful maze

This morning my faith in humanity was restored. I’m not sure why I say restored, it never really went away, but when I told people two weeks ago I was going to London for the first time ever, I was cautioned and warned about how unfriendly the people were. This obviously followed the initial step back in amazement that at the age of 24 I had never been to the capital before. As I said at the time though, I’ve never needed to go.

Anyway, fast forward a fortnight and I am lugging my suitcase up the steps at Piccadilly Circus. I have already lost the novelty enthusiasm I had for the tube at the beginning of my stay and I am wondering why my suitcase always feels heavier on the way home, even though I categorically have not bought anything new (trust me, I don’t have the funds).

Note: not the actual Piccadilly Circus steps, used for dramatic effect

Note: not the actual Piccadilly Circus steps, used for dramatic effect

Two steps up and I see someone to the side of me pause, take their music out their ears and ask, “Would you like some help with that?” Do I look suitably peeved off and say for the sake of feminism (the volunteer is a middle-aged man) “Not at all, I have two arms and two legs and can carry my own suitcase just fine!”? Do I heck. I smile sweetly and say “Thank you very much that would be lovely.”

With my assent the gentleman hoists the case up (with one arm) and strides to the top of the steps while I look on in awe. Job done, he replaces the earphones and smiles goodbye as I thank him again for his assistance.

Now, the cynics among you may say, “Well you’re young and pretty,” (why thank you) “and that’s the only reason he helped you.” And in fact, that is exactly what my colleague did say when I waltzed into the office, full of the joys of spring and a lot less out of breath than I otherwise would have been.

Well, not exactly: “There must have been an ulterior motive,” says Ryan from Men’s Health when I recount my tale, “Humans are disgusting.” He has obviously lived in London for a lot longer than me. But I refuse my optimism to be dampened and endeavour to keep smiling for as long as possible.

Probably just as well I’m going back to Cardiff tonight then.


Alison sympathised and advised how to handle wood-burning stove

Alison sympathised and advised how to handle wood-burning stove



Day 5


Success! I don’t know why I wasn’t posting this first thing this morning… hang on, yes I do, I was snugly tucked up in my yurt and managed to sleep until 9.30am. Eat your hats cynics of mine.


So what did I do differently? Well, let’s be honest, none of it was rocket science, but it did take the sage advice of a year-round yurter to make my outdoor home more habitable. Enter Alison, who lives at the Cherry Wood Project in Bath and was kind enough to have a look at my humble abode yesterday afternoon.


Firstly, may I just say, I felt entirely vindicated by her astonishment that my yurt did not have insulation. “This is a summer camping yurt,” she exclaimed, “you’d be freezing at this time of year.”

“I was,” said I, “trust me I was.”

She also thought the fire rather small and the lack of ventilation a problem, “This is not good for you at all.” she tutted. Hallelujah, finally some sympathy and understanding.


So I asked her what I could do to make the best of a bad situation, obviously painting Nick as a Draconian boss in the process: she didn’t need to know that I had crawled into the house early Monday morning and refused to return to the yurt ever since.


Shockingly, her first piece of advice was to leave the door slightly ajar, “Are you mad?” I thought. But apparently not, the fire needs to draw oxygen in to keep it roaring and this also stops the yurt from becoming unbearably smokey.


Alison also suggested starting the fire much earlier in the day and keeping it burning throughout the evening. It seems I had not been tending my stove with the required dedication.


And I must admit, what a difference these small and seemingly innocuous measures made. While I would not say I was as comfortable as I would be indoors, and keeping in mind that I was wearing multiple layers again (although thankfully the hat and gloves were dropped), I did manage to sleep right through the night and upon waking at 7.20am thought it best to sleep for a couple more hours just to drive the point home to Nick and co. Late for work, my foot.


It makes me proud that I managed it but I don’t think I’ll be investing in a yurt (almost £3000 for a model like the one I’m staying in) any time soon.


Had an amazing 12hrs sleep last night!

Had an amazing 12hrs sleep last night!

Day 3


Ok, I admit it, I gave in and slept indoors last night. In my defence I was pretty ill and I think Nick and his wife (Tina) both took pity on me and thought it best if I didn’t sleep in the yurt.


Nick decided it would be an amusing twist if he slept in there instead, probably so he could prove the fact that I’m fast becoming a softened city girl. As I was moving my things up into the spare room I thought it would be a nice gesture to light the fire: we were all planning on toasting marshmallows after dinner.


And what a fire it was! An hour later we trooped out for some marshmallow dessert to find the yurt had turned into some kind of sauna. Needless to say, nobody believed how cold it had been the previous night and plenty of digs at the not-so-hardy Scottish girl ensued. Trust me, teasing from a 10 and 12 year old is not always easy to take!


The marshmallows were delicious and the yurt was positively toasty. But I was not going to be lured in, so headed upstairs to sleep in the spare room. 


12 hours later I woke having slept right through, just goes to show how much I needed the sleep (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). 


Apparently Nick found the yurt perfectly comfortable and warm. Bearing in mind he gets up at 5am usually anyway, he said when he woke up at 4.30am the fire was still going: an entirely different kettle of fish to my stone-cold fire the morning before.


Also, the outside temperatures did not dip nearly so low last night, honest! Nip over to Nick’s blog to see his version of the events. 


Something tells me, sympathy exhausted, I’ll be out on my ear tonight. Farewell comfy bed!

It felt like I was somewhere like this!

It felt like I was somewhere like this!

Day 2


3.40am, I give up and practically sprint inside. I am so cold! It turns out the wood-burning stove is not sufficient to cope with the almost -2°c temperatures this morning.


I was wearing: jogging bottoms, thick wooly socks, t-shirt, cardigan, wooly gillet, thick wooly roll neck jumper, scarf, hat and gloves.


Nick had given me a 10tog duvet, a thick woolen blanket and a throw. But, in the bed was not a problem, it was actually quite warm in there, it was the cold air all around which by 3am was starting to permeate the cocoon I had fashioned for myself.


Luckily, Nick had left the house door open for me allowing for such an eventuality so as I dash across the (frost covered) lawn I know there will be a sofa waiting for me inside.


What I had forgotten was Treacle: the dog. Thankfully she just looked at me quizzically for a few seconds and, deciding against barking, let me get on with it. I must have looked too pathetic to be a burglar.


At least one thing came in handy – the earplugs I bought in anticipation of the noise in the yurt! This morning I didn’t even hear Nick’s family going about their day-to-day routine of getting ready for school and work. And I was so bundled up under my sleeping bag, no-one but the youngest (Sasha) realised I was there. All mutually entertaining once I did eventually wake up.


So I’m not sure what the game plan is tonight, I feel I owe it to the project to try again, plus I’m not a quitter! It could be warmer tonight and maybe if I am more diligent with my fire it will work more efficiently.


It’s good to know, however, that the option of a spare room is there if I need it.


A yurt in it's home land, Kyrgyzstan

A yurt in it's home land, Kyrgyzstan



Day 1   

Today I left Cardiff at 9am and drove to Ampney St Peter, Gloucestershire to start a week of work experience with a difference. I will be staying in a yurt for the week as a guinea pig for my boss and to see if it is bearable to sleep in one in the, frankly still freezing, weather conditions of late March in Britain.

Nick Gibbs is the editor-in-chief of Freshwood Publishing which publishes British Woodworking and Living Woods. When I asked him why I would be staying in a yurt he said “Cos I thought it would be funny.” Luckily for him I’ve got a good sense of humour and I am a country bumpkin at heart so I’m not adverse to a bit of rough living.

As I pulled up to the house at 11am (bear in mind it is a Sunday and not many placements will start on a Sunday) I was still feeling fluffy from Friday night’s end of term excesses. But the yurt man (Paul) had just arrived and so it was straight to work.  

The yurt frame is built using three interlocking wall sections, roof poles and a roof crown. Then a canvas skirt and roof cover are used to create the shelter. This design is based on the Kyrgyzstan model, which has steep sides to allow rainwater to run off more efficiently (I may well be thankful of this function by the end of the week). 

Numerous different knots were required to fit everything together securely, but luckily Paul is pretty expert and I took to it like a duck to water so the yurt was up within the hour.

A slice of locally made coffee and walnut cake (my favourite) and a cup of tea to celebrate and then we got down to making it homely inside.

Home sweet home: a lot hinges on this wood-burning stove

Home sweet home: a lot hinges on this wood-burning stove

As you can see it didn’t take much to make my humble abode a little more comfortable and the wood-burning stove should make it nice and toasty.

On that note, I better go and stoke it up, otherwise getting to sleep tonight may be a little tough. I’ll let you know how I get on: apparently yurts act as great amplifiers of even the smallest noises, so I’ve got the earplugs at the ready.

Wish me luck!