The Lamb in Bloomsbury is a proper Victorian boozer, with not a distressed sofa or even a slightly emotional pouffe in sight. No media-whore’s boudoir is this. And yet it’s here, beneath a photo of the Queen Mum pulling a pint, that I first said to Jude “What, you mean we’d create a race of 3ft-high silver robots which would take over the world at our behest?” and she said “No, I mean we’d create an A5 fanzine dedicated to writing and art inspired by London” – I think we’d been slightly at cross purposes up till then. My immediate reaction was, of course, disappointment. My second was to go ahead with the robot thing anyway, and just not tell her. And my third was to say don’t be silly, we’ve not been to St Martin’s, we’ve rarely been to Hoxton, it’s possibly even slightly too long since either of us went to the bar, given the way they keep looking across at us; we don’t have trust funds or grants or – unless there’s something you’ve not been telling me – rich elderly admirers willing to fund our whims in return for a bit of bi-weekly sauce; we’d be entirely dependent on the goodwill and support of ordinary Londoners! But, as the bell rang for last orders, and I took one final drunken turn round the snug with the barmaid while Jude lolled against a hatstand quietly singing the words of Up The Junction to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, I knew she’d convinced me.
I also knew it wouldn’t be easy. At Leyton High School, books had generally been regarded as a bit beyond us – or beyond the school’s budget – and when Jude had first journeyed east from that mist-wreathed tribal encampment midway between Swansea and Llanelli which had hitherto nourished her small damp bones, she still barely knew which way up to hold the slate. In short, we knew nothing of the ways of word and print. But we also knew the idea was a good one, and were convinced we could pick up all we needed as we went along: from bookshops, other magazines from which to steal ideas; from men with ink-stained fingers, a rudimentary grasp of print-shop techniques; and from pubs throughout Camden, anyone cute with a low alcohol tolerance who looked as if they might have muse-like qualities.
Smoke#1 was, in retrospect, a strange little thing, largely due to our decision to use 7pt black type on backgrounds that were varying shades of dark grey. But we loved it stupidly in the way that parents always love their babies, no matter how mad-looking they are, and eagerly lugged it round bookshops in battered old rucksacks so that others could love it too. And many did, particularly those with good eyesight. And not just in London, because – and perhaps I should have said this earlier – Smoke doesn’t do listings or reviews, so you don’t need to live in London to enjoy it, any more than you need to live in New York to enjoy Woody Allen, or in a galaxy far far away to enjoy Star Wars. Or to have once hit a professor over the head with a piece of lead piping in a library to enjoy Agatha Christie. You just need an imagination.
And, again in the way of proud new parents, we knew we wanted another.
So we made another. And another. And, as we came to understand more fully the power of Photoshop and Quark Xpress, and to swish our editorial sticks (three-for-two at Rymans) ever more sadistically, so the magazine improved, until eventually we reached the point that all parents of large broods eventually reach, and did what we had to do: we hid Smokes#1 and #2 in a cupboard and refused to ever talk about them again.
Soon, Jude’s talents were being noted by, amongst others, Word, the Guardian, Observer and New Statesman, and finally she decided that continuing to co-edit Smoke whilst constantly fending off these elderly suitors was impossible. After spending four and a half years rummaging through the reviews cupboard at Word, she went on to found pop culture website The Lipster, and for a while fixed us with a Mona Lisa smile from page 2 of the Guardian’s Film & Music section every other Friday. In November 08, she made her TV debut, discussing Kenneth Branagh on the Newsnight Review sofa with that vicar who used to be in The Communards. My own talents, meanwhile, were being noted by a strange woman in Wimbledon, who started to send me incoherent and slightly worrying letters, and finally I decided to get the locks changed.
So that’s what Smoke is. But if you want to know more, then www.smokelondon.co.uk is the place to go.