Friday, 25 October 2013

How Crafts Magazine introduced me to my future wife - and helped turn me from a miserable kidult into a happy grown-up

My wife’s just been with a friend to the opening day of the Made in London crafts exhibition which is taking place this weekend at One Marylebone, a beautiful Sir John Soane church opposite Great Portland Street Tube Station. They both loved it. One of the things my wife brought back was the latest of issue of Crafts Magazine, an achingly tasteful bi-monthly publication produced by the Crafts Council, a publicly-funded body aimed at promoting – yeah, well, crafts, obviously. As I leafed through the magazine, memories came rushing back – because, strangely, it played a pivotal role in my life.

Thirty years ago, I was still a writer. I was making an okay living from my novels, but there were signs that the horror market was on the wane, my career wasn’t heading in the right direction, my personal life was in a bit of mess, and, frankly, I was getting bored spending every weekday on my own, churning out fiction. I was desperately in need of a change: mainly, I suspect it was because I'd begun to realise that it was time  to turn my back on a protracted adolescence and think about becoming an adult. After all, I was 30.

So I set about looking for part-time jobs. The first people I went to see were SPCK Publishing, a notable Christian publishing outfit who were looking for someone to handle publicity. Two things made them attractive to me: first, the two people who interviewed me were incredibly nice; second, their offices were housed in Holy Trinity, Marylebone – the very church my wife and her chum visited today. There were only two problems: I wasn’t a believer at the time (not a problem for them, apparently), and, while they were prepared to offer me the job, they wouldn’t consider making it part-time (I was fishing for three days a week). So I turned it down.

A few months later, when I was starting to feel quite desperate, I saw an offer for a job doing the publicity for Crafts Magazine, which I’d never heard of. It was exactly what I’d been looking for: the offices were then in a very grand building in Waterloo Place, between Piccadilly Circus and Pall Mall, the lady who interviewed me was great, and it was only two days a week. Deal done!

The magazine itself didn’t really interest me that much. At that time, the Council seemed determined to promote makers who really wanted to be artists rather than craftsmen, and a lot of stuff in the magazine irritated the hell out of me: pots that looked like a colour-blind special-needs five-year old had slapped them together and forgotten to include a hole to stick stuff in; chairs that weren’t meant to be sat on; tea pots that couldn’t actually hold any liquid – i.e. the sort of pretentious, pointless rubbish that no one would bother making unless some goofy government appointee judged that it was sufficiently cutting-edge to justify squandering taxpayers’ money on.

To be fair, traditional crafts – e.g. punt-building and cane-weaving – were also featured, and then there was the really good stuff: beautifully made, aesthetically pleasing and - yes! - usable pots, jugs, furniture and jewellery whose makers didn’t really need government susbsidies to survive, because they made things real people actually wanted to own and use.

I worked at the Crafts Council for two years and managed to justify my meagre salary by increasing the magazine’s distribution. One of the people at my leaving do (my writing career was drawing peacefully to a close and I was off to the BBC) gave me a hand-made present – an extremely clever and delightful mock-up of a book (Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That) which is impossible to describe, but which tickled me pink. The maker was a very pretty silversmith who was running the gallery’s bookshop and café – I’d fallen for her the first time we met. The leaving present was a bit of a hint that my feelings might not be entirely unreciprocated.

At the end of the evening I asked her round to my new flat (the first property I’d ever owned) that weekend. We’ve been stepping out for the last 28 years – and I still have her leaving present.

Forgive this burst of nostalgia, but seeing Crafts after all these years has brought back a flood - a tsunami - of happy memories: I can honestly say that, from the moment I said goodbye to all that, I’ve never looked back – and adulhood turned out to be infinitely preferable to adolescence.

By the way, Crafts is a much better publication these days. It looks remarkably similar to the product I used to flog, but most of the pretentious garbage has been jettisoned, and there’s hardly anything in it I wouldn’t be absolutely delighted to own. You can find out all about it here. It's a snip ar £6.20 a copy, and would look dead cool on your coffee-table.

Thanks for everything, Crafts - delighted to discover you're still around and improving with age.

No comments:

Post a Comment