Friday, 27 January 2012

Lads' mags: out of sight, out of mind

Sorted at WH Smith in Liverpool
There has been a lot of controversy over the way lads’ mags are displayed in newsagents and supermarkets. While some see no problem with the likes of Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Loaded being displayed at eye level, it seems more and more people feel they should be tucked well out of sight.

A survey from parental support resource Mumsnet showed that 90% of us think these mags should be well out of sight of our kids. It’s clear that the nation objects to the prominence of lads’ mags in our stores and the explicitness of the front covers.

Mumsnet decided to use this information to influence the people who decide what goes where on the shop shelves. It wrote to all the major news retailers telling them what their survey had revealed and asking them to change the way they display publications containing adult sexual imagery.

“We are absolutely delighted that Sainsburys, Morrisons, Waitrose, BP, Asda, The Co-operative Group and Tesco have all pledged to support our campaign to keep lads' mags out of children's view, in all their stores,” said a Mumsnet spokesperson.

There is also good news from the government’s Bailey Review, which is looking into the sexualisation and commercialisation of children. It has also called for lad's mags to be hidden from children's sight. 

There is still plenty of work to be done. WH Smith says that a shelf height of 1.2m is high enough for men’s mags and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents says it “cannot ensure” that its members take action. And independent newsagents and petrol stations are often the major culprits when it comes to exposing kids to what basically boils down to pornography.

So what can we do to stop the public display of magazines that exploit and demean women?
  1. Stop buying them!
  2. Buy Sorted magazine instead. It’s manly without being misogynistic; entertaining without being exploitative. And the more popular it becomes, the more seriously it will be taken by retailers. WH Smith is now stocking it, get down there today!
  3. In the meantime, get behind the ‘modesty wrap’ campaign, which will force the lads’ mags to cover up. Click here to sign the petition
  4. Contact your local newsagent and any other offenders – they do listen (see WH Smith comment below). Here’s a handy template from Mumsnet to get you started
  5. Write to commend the retailers who are already taking action. Campaigning doesn’t have to be negative; it’s good to honour those who are socially responsible
Quotes from the retailers in response to the Mumsnet campaign:

Sainsbury's: “We know that this is an important issue for many of our shoppers and this is why we were one of the first retailers to introduce modesty covers back in 2006.”
Morrisons: said it “had a pre-existing policy of using modesty covers for lads' mags, will continue to do so.”
Waitrose: “On the occasion that the publications feature covers that could be considered controversial, we would ask that the publisher polybag or wrap them.
Asda: “We are doing everything we can to keep men's weeklies out of the sight of children by removing them from prominent displays and concealing covers with 'modesty boards'.”
Tesco: “Last year, we introduced a trial in more than 100 stores which put these titles at the back of the top shelf, obscuring their front covers with other magazines. We are pleased with the success of this trial and are now rolling this out across all Tesco stores. We are already reviewing the use of bagging and 'modesty units' where these niche magazines are concerned.”
The Co-operative Group: “Lads' mags will always be merchandised on the top tier of all fixtures and be overlapped to avoid overt display of sexual images. The Daily Sport will be merchandised with the back page on display.”
The National Federation of Retail Newsagents: “We do recommend to our members that they adopt a family-friendly policy for the display of adult and lads' mags titles, which includes keeping them away from children's titles and above children's eye level.”
WH Smith: “Where we receive customer complaints about an issue in a certain publication, WH Smith commits to raise these concerns directly with the publisher.”

Monday, 23 January 2012

Stop making excuses!

The mighty Sorted magazine hits WH Smith

I’m not going to write a long rant, but I do want to make a strong case in favour of an amazing venture and opportunity.

Sorted magazine launched in 316 WH Smith stores this month. Established back in 1792, ‘Smiths’ has 550 high street stores and 440 travel outlets. It’s the first place most people think of when they want to buy a magazine. So the fact this industry-leading newsagent is stocking our magazine is the result of the team’s incredible hard work and God’s intervention.

Why am I telling you all this, you ask? Well, I just want to remind you how amazing it is that this awesome magazine (yes, I know I’m biased) is available to buy on the high street alongside Loaded, Nuts and FHM. But we want to do more and we need your help.

You can make Sorted a real contender in its field and, more importantly, a godly witness on the high street.

Here are my top five reasons to get off your blessed assurance and buy your copy today:

It’s a good witness to the retailer. I’m all for complaining about bad lads’ mags and signing petitions to bring in modesty covers, but how about doing something positive too? Find out whether your nearest WH Smith sells it/has any copies left, and if not, ask them about it, then go and buy one. We want them to know there is a genuine demand for something more wholesome. This will send a powerful message to the high street.

It’s an easy way to share the gospel with your friends/colleagues in a cringe-free way. You could buy a copy (or five) for your staffroom, a neighbour, or your friend/family member who doesn’t want to hear the gospel but likes to read interesting articles and features. Then just leave it sitting there. It’s evangelism the easy way.

It’s a chance to get some exercise. My nearest Smiths store that stocks it is a good 30 minute walk there and back. Use your lunch hour to get some fresh air, get your heart pumping and pick up a great treat for later in the day (if you can bear to wait that long).

It’s great value. For just £3.50 you get 92 pages that are full to the brim with good stuff. That’s just £1.75 a month (less than the price of one posh coffee) for the bi-monthly mag. It will keep you entertained for hours with exclusive celebrity interviews, sports features, blogs from Bear Grylls, Dan Walker and Andy Kind, words of wisdom from the like of J. John and Carl Beech, gadget and film reviews, fitness and lifestyle tips, and lots more.

It’s an easy way to support a Christian company and ministry that donates thousands of free copies a year to members of the armed forces, commuters, school children, police stations and many others. This magazine has the potential to reach the world, so play your part!

Okay, so maybe that was a bit of a rant, but it’s something I’m really passionate about. It’s primarily aimed at men, but I know lots of women who read it too. The perfect gift for Father’s Day, birthdays and all the occasions in between, it’s time to get behind this enterprise and help it to reach its God-given potential.

Let’s make sure we tell our churches, our families and our friends about it; that we create a buzz that gets people talking about it (and buying it). The more copies sold, the more we can achieve through it in the future.

We need to put our money where our mouths are and start spreading the word. Feel free to take pictures of your Sorted-buying escapades and send them to the wonderful Steve Legg (!

Monday, 16 January 2012

How to lose weight and motivate people

Mike before
When I first saw the before and after pictures of Mike Jones, I struggled to believe the two men staring back at me were actually the same guy.

Having spoken to him, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that the before pic showed a chubby guy with pretty low confidence. He admits that takeaways were a constant temptation and the work chocolate machine added insult to injury.

To escape his stressful job, Mike found himself playing competitive computer games on Xbox Live, which “would involve a lot of swearing and raising of voices”. He spent a large portion of the weekend in bed and did not welcome any interruptions from his wife.

The worst part, though, was his relationship with his son. He avoided taking his son out and felt people were staring at him when he went out because of his weight. “At restaurants, if I ordered anything even remotely fattening, I felt like people would be looking at me and thinking: ‘The reason you are so fat is because that's what you eat!’”

Mike struck rock bottom when his son started asking him not to go places with him and when, during a men’s retreat, he was told during a high beams activity that two peoples’ weight would be needed to counter his. Then, in 2009, the couple lost their second child, who lived for just four hours.

“All these things led me to see what was going on, to see how life was important, and what my wife meant when she told me that I didn't see how much of an influential role model a father is for his son,” he says.

Mike after
Prescription drugs didn’t work, so he started attending Rosemary Conley classes with his wife. He found it easier than he’d imagined because it helped him get motivated and meant they were spending more time together.

Within two weeks, Mike’s calorie intake had been halved, he’d lost 5.5lbs and his confidence was starting to return. After a month he’d dropped a stone and a full trouser size. He found himself wanting to play less Xbox and exercise more as he felt more and more energised.

Having now lost eight stone, he not only looks like a different person, he feels like a new man too. “From a purely selfish and superficial level, I enjoy picking out new trousers and no longer looking for those with a 46" tag.

“But the most important things are that I am much happier and relaxed person and what it has given my family. We took some photos (my son and myself) on Father’s Day and he was hugging me so tight I had to almost push him away.” A few days later, a framed version of the picture appeared on the wall at his son’s request.

Although this was a decidedly difficult period in Mike’s life, he feels his faith in God paid a “huge part” in his weight loss experience. He also discovered that weight loss and proximity to God went hand in hand for him.

A few times a week he goes for a run during his lunch hour.  “This is the perfect time for me to focus on God and to think about where my life is going,” he says. “The extra energy that I have has allowed me to become a Street Pastor, where we walk from about ten at night until four in the morning; I’m not sure I would have had the energy to do that previously. I am also running Zumba classes at the church I attend as a way outreach, encouraging people to bring their friends along.”

So what advice would he give other people, particularly men, who are struggling with weight issues? “Ultimately, I believe that fad diets don't work and successful weight loss and maintenance boils down to two things,” he says. “Eat better, move more.”

Read the full story in the May-June edition of Sorted men's magazine - now available at WH Smith!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Why the homeless may soon be looking trendier than you

If you’ve ever been to a market or travelled to a tourist destination, you’ve probably come across counterfeit designer goods of some kind. Buying a pair of knock-off Nike trainers, a Gucci watch or a Ralph Lauren shirt at a heavily discounted price is understandably tempting for many.

But there are two major drawbacks associated with fake goods:

Quality: I bought a “designer” watch in Ibiza and it had stopped working by the time I got home. Lesson learnt!

Social/economic impact: it puts people out of jobs, puts consumers at risk and often empowers crime syndicates connected with child labour, human trafficking, money laundering and even terrorism, according to the experts.

If in doubt, avoid buying pirated gear! (Unless of course it’s the Jack Sparrow kind.)

But there is at least one positive outcome emerging from the counterfeiting crisis. A UK charity is giving the fakes a new future; as much-needed clothing for the homeless. Although they are usually handed to Customs or Trading Standards to be incinerated, His Church has been given the go-ahead to redistribute these clothes to those who really need it.

Buckinghamshire Trading Standards was the first authority to get involved in the scheme, followed: by Trading Standards in Manchester, Liverpool and London; West Midlands Police, the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police; and UK Customs. And now the charity is getting calls from as far away as America to deal with offending items of fake fashion.

Even the sewing machines His Church uses to patch over counterfeit labels were seized by UK Customs officials from the criminal gangs creating the counterfeit clothing and passed on. It’s a win-win situation: the homeless benefit and officials don’t have to pay to store or destroy the garments.

Charity co-ordinator Richard Humphrey told the BBC: "It's all come round in a virtuous circle," says Richard. "It's a genuinely inspired idea which we've put into practice by faith and it's just borne fruit."

Rebranding takes place at the charity’s Lincolnshire warehouse, where around 30 volunteers give up their time to make the clothes legally wearable. According to Richard, the quality of most of the items he receives is excellent.

These high-quality items are then sent to around 250 homeless centres and women's shelters across the country. And even garments that are too heavily branded to patch over can be salvaged; the charity has permission to send them overseas, providing the destination is outside the EU.

"So many of us go through life talking about projects we're going to do and we talk and talk about them but somehow we just never quite get round to doing them,” Richard told the BBC.  

"So I guess we decided to come at it from the opposite end; don't bother talking, just do it."

An apt choice of words, given the topic in question.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Were Liverpool right not to appeal the Luis Suárez ban?

Luis Suárez (left) confronts Patrice Evra (right)
When I first heard about the Evra-Suárez racism affair, I thought Evra had sunk to even lower lows. Having been at the game I saw him diving, feigning injury, jostling and chasing after the referee every five minutes.

I knew Suárez had bitten another player before joining Liverpool and provided the handball that knocked my favourites, Ghana, out of the World Cup.

But his form for the club has been unbelievable, even United fans couldn’t deny that.

So I immediately leapt to his defence, rejecting the very idea that our super Suárez could have done such a thing. I mean, surely racism went out of the game (and modern society) decades ago?

Well clearly not, and the Independent Regulatory Committee’s 115-page dossier on the incident appears to agree. The committee stated that Suárez referred to Evra as “negro” (“black”) on seven occasions during the October 15 fixture.

Suárez's lawyers argued that it is common practice to address a person by referring to an element of their appearance across Latin America, including terms relating to size, weight, hair colour and skin colour.

Furthermore, “negrito”, the Spanish term he initially claimed to have used, is less clear cut than the English word “negro”. Having a decent knowledge of Italian, I knew that the “ito” ending was a diminutive and is often used to express affection. An example of this might be Ronaldinho, whose real name is Ronaldo, but for whom the diminutive ending “inho” is used as a term of endearment.

So what’s the problem then? Well the use of the “ito” at the end of the word can also be used to belittle someone. Used in the context of a fiercely contested derby game between two players in which blatant animosity was apparent to even the most distracted of spectators, it was adjudged that the Uruguayan “probably” wasn’t showing Evra some love, even if he did use "negrito" rather than "negro".

Commenting on the alleged incident, Suárez said: "Never, I repeat, never, have I had any racial problem with a teammate or individual who was of a different race or colour to mine … In my country, 'negro' is a word we use commonly, a word which doesn't show any lack of respect and is even less so a form of racist abuse … I will carry out the suspension with the resignation of someone who hasn't done anything wrong and who feels extremely upset by the events."

It is arguable whether Suárez was deliberately racist, but he certainly has a callous streak that rears its ugly head from time to time. Wherever they are from, footballers should familiarise themselves with any offensive terms in the country they play in and, if in doubt, avoid using them. Culture cannot be used as an excuse.

Suárez is an excellent player and I’m delighted he signed for Liverpool. I’m not sure whether he deserved an eight-match ban and a £40,000 fine, but I hope following this and the Fulham incident, that he will learn to keep his behaviour in check in the future. As a Liverpool fan I want to see him making headlines for his goal scoring record and not for his personality defects.

With the news of the convictions in the Stephen Lawrence case this week, I’d love to say that violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities has come to an end. But the truth is that racism is still a massive problem in the UK, even if we do not encounter it ourselves on a daily basis.

Footballers shouldn’t be treated any differently from other people in society and racist comments should always be taken seriously. It needs to be stamped out at an individual, institutional and international level, and those responsible should be made an example of, whoever they are.

I just hope the ever-slippery John Terry doesn’t evade justice over his own allegedly racist comment.

Read more from Joy in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine - now available from WH Smith!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Let’s make 2012 count!

So it’s New Year’s Day and I’m already regretting some of the resolutions I promised to make when the sun came up on the brand new year. I mean, a little bit of chocolate is good for you, right? And walking to the kitchen to stick the kettle on pretty much constitutes exercise, doesn’t it?

I’m sure we all have things we’d like to change about ourselves, and the start of a new year offers the perfect opportunity to do so.

I’d like to stop committing myself to things I can’t deliver on. I hate disappointing people, so I say yes to whatever I’m asked. But then when the pressure’s on I either end up burning myself out or letting someone down. We all know honesty is the best policy, but I, for one, could be better at it.

But rather than focusing on the things I want to STOP doing, I’ve decided to think about what I really want to get out of this year; to make this a positive rather than a negative period. All my life I’ve wanted to write a novel, and this year I made a great start. But something inside me is afraid of finishing it in case it’s no good.

This year I want to stop fearing failure and start enjoying my writing. I’m no William Shakespeare or JK Rowling, but nothing makes me happier than putting pen to paper and letting my imagination run wild. And I believe it’s a gift God has given me, so the last thing I want to do is squander it.

What is it that you really want to get out of this year? Why not pick three things that you’ve been thinking about doing but haven’t quite got round to yet? Then come up with a realistic plan of action so you can make it happen.

The traditional resolutions – giving up smoking, cutting back on booze, caffeine and calories, going to the gym more – are fine, but don’t limit yourself to them. They’re all well and good if your dream is to get the perfect body, but many of us want more from our lives than that.

Ask God what he his plans are for you this year; he has a definite purpose for you in 2012 and beyond (Jeremiah 29:11). He can also help you achieve it!

If you’re stuck for ideas, these might help get the ball rolling:
  • Learning a new language
  • Playing football rather than just watching it
  • Getting the hang of Twitter
  • Asking your boss for a promotion
  • Spending more time with your kids
  • Throwing out all your old hole-ridden underpants
  • Taking a road trip with a group of friends
  • Volunteering with a local/national/international community group
  • Running a 5K/10K/half-marathon/marathon
  • Getting involved more in your church
  • Saving for a house deposit
  • Recycling more and wasting less
  • Finally completing Angry Birds
  • Telling a friend about Jesus
  • Signing up for a Sorted subscription ;) 
I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with plenty yourself, so be realistic, practise perseverance and don’t let minor setbacks set you back for good.

Happy New Year!