In December 2011 Twitter followers of Norfolk and Scotland based fabric and print makers St.Judes, were informed that a limited edition of just 750 copies of a new magazine, called “Random Spectacular”, was going to be launched costing £17 a piece, with all profits donated to Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. It was the fastest sprint I ever made to my wallet upstairs, and clinch the deal minutes later I did. It was most fortunate I moved with such enthusiastic alacrity, because 48 hours later every single copy was sold.
Imagine my delight when I found the envelope in my post box a few days later, containing a beautiful paper journal 35 cm in length and 24 cm wide, with 104 pages of some of the most beautiful art work I have seen in a very long time. It is the sort of magazine you stop the working day for: it engages you from the start, all your deadlines cast aside so you can give it your undivided attention. And random indeed it is, as random as it is spectacular. There is no cohesive thread that runs through all the themes, but that is what brings joy, serendipity and interest to the reader.
The creators, Mark Hearld, Angie and Simon Lewin (the founders of St.Judes) and Emily Sutton must be very popular people, because they managed to galvanise and mobilise the artistic skill and talents of about thirty artists, photographers and writers to create the work for free. It is a collaborative achievement of considerable greatness and they should be highly commended. Which they were: the happiness and gratitude of the buyers was plain to read on social media and Blogs, as readers wrote in to tell Angie and Simon Lewin how lucky they felt at having gotten their hands on such a precious commodity. We were all feeling quite smug, if the truth be told, as if we had gained entry into an exclusive club of only 750 people.
There are so many highlights in Random Spectacular that I do not know where to begin. Obviously I am going to focus on the food and drink articles. William Brown, who works at the beautiful clothes shop Old Town in Norwich, has written a very thoughtful piece called “The enduring charm of the Victorian pub”, with detailed black-and-white illustrations by Joanna Moore, who has also featured greatly in The Spitalfields Life Blog (and The Gentle Author, whom The Foodie Bugle has interviewed, is also in the magazine).
“The model for the pub as created in Victorian times is beautifully simple and enduring; one orders and pays for drinks at the bar, stands to drink it or sits at a table on a bentwood chair or a banquette. The formula is perfect and enduring”, writes William. This article made me want to get on a London bound train immediately and visit the pubs recommended: the Red Lion in Duke of York Street, The Prince Alfred in Maida Vale, The Salisbury in St. Martin’s Lane and the Princess Louise in Holborn.
I very much enjoyed the article about “Cortijada Los Gazquez”, an artists’ retreat in Andalucia, run by Simon Beckmann, and the food there is described as being delicious, authentic, seasonal Spanish fare. All the guests in the “Comments” section of the website were extremely complimentary and the interiors look fresh, white and inviting. The evocative drawings that accompany the article, by Angie Lewin (created during her stay there), show the abundant and colourful flora and fauna of the region. Tall teasels inhabit the white page next to small poppy seed heads, curly snail shells and prickly thistles. You feel as if you are walking in a hot, dry field on a summer’s day.
Jake Tilson’s piece on “Fonts and Fish Cans” made me laugh and gasp with admiration. The author of the cook book “In at the deep end: Cooking fish Venice to Tokyo” shows specimen cards of fonts, signs, fish cans and packaging. It is an intriguing study into the power of branding, logos, graphic design and food heritage. There is also a peek in the fascinating Norwegian Canning Museum, with photographs of fish labels from 1916-1949. The author writes:
“From the 1890’s until about 1960 the canning industry was Stavanger’s most important industry and old herring salting warehouses line the edge of the harbour. As the English food writer Alan Davidson noted: “old timber houses painted halibut-white, fish-mustard ochre, rain-sky slate or fjord-blue”. Being Italian, I share Jake Tilson’s fascination with anchovy, tuna, clam, sardine and crab tins. (For particularly beautiful specimens, I have even been known to keep the wrappers).
Justin Partyka’s ten year project to photograph the agrarian communities of East Anglia was a highly evocative piece for me, as I lived in Suffolk for five years, my daughter was born there, and I so remember the huge, pale, wintry skies above me and the endless, flat, wheat and corn covered fields below. The work is sensitive and compelling, Justin draws you into the agricultural lives of a generation that clings onto the very margins of an industry that has seen huge changes since the second world war.
In a totally different setting (another example of the “randomness” of the project), no one could fail to be charmed by Emily Sutton’s enchanting folk art scenes of rural Tuscany. They are depicted with such care and attention that the red cheeks of the greengrocer, the blade cuts in the grissini, the bold signage on the walls and the birds pecking at crumbs on the floor are all drawn with such precision and mastery you could almost be there, on your holidays.
There are no less than 23 picture stories, essays, reviews and poems all accompanied by wonderful prints and illustrations on thick, heavy paper that creates a small waft of air as you slowly flick the pages. I learned so much about so many different areas of artistic life that I was previously ignorant of, and for that and many other reasons I too am very grateful I did not hesitate when this venture was announced.
So often, especially in the world of magazines, a work is created which is blared about and marketed every which way. Random Spectacular sold through word of mouth, through fans of St.Judes, their fabrics, bags, cards, stationery and ethos, safe in the knowledge that whatever comes out of that stable is of the utmost quality and honesty. Many congratulations to all who took part. I cannot wait for the next one.