Why does it always rain on me?

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Don’t worry; this isn’t a post where I’m about to head down the road of self-victimisation. It’s actually the total opposite!

I’m sure we’ve all been around that person, the kind of person that says…

“Why is it always me?”
“Knowing my luck…”
“Why do bad things keep happening to me?”
“It’s about time that I had some good luck.”
“Why can’t something good happen to me for once in my life?”

This kind of attitude never fails to grate on me and I have to bite my tongue whenever I’m around somebody who comes out with one of the above comments. To me, it’s just an incredibly self-centred, ignorant and blinkered perspective. I’m not saying that I’m always a super-duper positive soul that doesn’t get brought down by life. I have bad days on a frequent basis and I’ll get angry, morose and bitter about a great many things. I’m only a human being after all.

The thing is though, I’ll never shout up at the sky in frustration and ask, “why does this shit always happen to me?” I’ll never question why life keeps selecting me as the target for a slew of bad fortune. I’ll never demand to know why nothing good ever happens to me.

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The thing is, there is no such thing as bad luck. Bad things are happening to us all the time, just as good things are always occuring in our lives. It’s a matter of perception. Some events are undoubtedly bad news – contracting a serious illness or experiencing the loss of a loved one, for example – but there are so many other, more minor things that can be perceived either way.

And there are many people who simply can’t help perceiving every little thing as ‘bad’. When somebody is constantly doing this, all of these ‘bad’ events stack up in their mind and can really affect their outlook on the day, their week or even their life. The irony is that so many things don’t even need to be interpreted as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They simply are. Why interpret rainy weather and getting wet as bad luck? It is just what it is. Sometimes it seems that people are actively seeking out ‘bad’ things to complain about.

It’s called self-victimisation and it makes people feel good. It makes them feel important and special because THEY are being singled out by life…apparently. And it’s easier to blame your “luck” rather that doing something about your problems, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to wallow in the comfort of your own self-cultivated misery, secure in the fact that you’re being kept down by everybody and everything else, and that there’s nothing you can do to turn things around in the face of such oppression.

Further up this post, I described this attitude as ignorant and blinkered because that’s exactly what it is. The entire “why is it always me?” outlook on life is massively flawed because, while something bad is happening to you, bad shit is also happening to millions of other people around the world at that exact same moment. Having a bad day at work? So are millions of others across the globe. Feeling under the weather for what seems like the umpteenth day in a row? Well, perhaps you should remember that thousands are being diagnosed with life-changing disabilities or terminal illnesses.

And here in the developed, western world, our problems and the things that we determine to be ‘bad’ are so trivial in the grand scheme of things. They are usually things that won’t bother us when we wake up the next day – things that can and will be forgotten. Certainly things that don’t deserve to be moaned about when our lives are paradise in contrast to the lives of others who are much less fortunate and live in extreme poverty or in dangerous, war-torn regions of the world. How do you think those people would view your complaint about it being “so unfair” that you missed out on that Black Friday deal?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “you make your own luck” and it really is true. If you’re blind to the good things in your life, because you’re so busy focusing on what’s wrong, then all you are doing is reinforcing – in your head – the notion that your life is rubbish…for no valid reason at all. You are perceiving your life as negative because you are only interested in seeing the bad things in order to maintain the victim narrative that you’ve created for yourself.

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You forget that you actually woke up this morning and get to live another day.
You forget that you have your health.
You forget that you have family and friends (when so many people have nobody).
You forget that you have a job to go to (when others don’t and are struggling to pay their bills).
You forget that you don’t have to worry about having your house obliterated by an airstrike.
You forget that you have the luxury of being able to buy all of these material goods.

I don’t mean to come across as preachy but I think a vast majority of us are guilty of forgetting how great our lives really are. But maybe you still don’t think so and are STILL wondering when you are due some of that much-deserved good luck.

Well, let’s return to that phrase, shall we? “You make your own luck”. Many successful businesspeople will tell you that there is no such thing as luck. “Good” luck is simply the act of recognising opportunities and being bold enough to take them. And you don’t need to be all about business and financial gain to benefit from this insight. For example, you might look at that guy with the incredibly beautiful girlfriend/wife and think, “man, that is one lucky sonofabitch.” But was he really “lucky” or did he just recognise that there was an opportunity – sometime in the past – to get to know her better or ask her out on a date – an opportunity he was bold enough to take.

What I’m saying is that there is no mystical universal force flipping coins or rolling dice above our heads and determining what happens next in our lives. It is only us, choosing to perceive our situations in one way or another. It is only us recognising opportunities and taking them…or not. You are not being specifically targeted by life to receive misfortune.

More to the point, we need to be better at recognising what’s RIGHT in our lives and what we HAVE. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore the bad parts or pretend that the negativity doesn’t exist, but it does mean that we shouldn’t allow all of our attention to zero in on the shitty elements of life. We shouldn’t allow insignificant unpleasantries to be needlessly exaggerated in our mind’s eye.

And we certainly shouldn’t inflate our own sense of importance and believe that we alone – out of billions of people – are so special as to be on the receiving end of life’s attentions.

 

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #12: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder (R.L. Stine, 1993)

piano-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I think it’s time to hand out an award: a trophy for the most bizarre title to appear on a Goosebumps book. I mean, just what can you expect from a book called “Piano Lessons Can Be Murder”? And let’s just take a moment to appreciate the inclusion of the word ‘Murder’ in the title of a children’s book. I mean, I’m not the sort of person who gives a crap, but I can imagine modern-day publishers perhaps wanting to steer away from using the word ‘Murder’. But then again, I’m not clued-up on current Young Fiction so maybe I’m way off the mark.

The Blurb

Jerry’s all set for piano lessons, especially now he’s got his own piano to practise on. But now he’s met Dr Shreek, his piano teacher, he’s not so sure…

Dr Shreek looks harmless, but there’s something really weird about him that Jerry can’t quite put his finger on. He gives Jerry the creeps…

And then Jerry hears stories about Dr Shreek’s other pupils…who went for a lesson, and were never seen again. But those stories can’t really be true…can they?

As with a great many Goosebumps books, Piano Lessons Can Be Murder opens with a kid moving to a new town and a new house. Jerry, his parents, and their cat, Bonkers (who Jerry absolutely detests) have just moved to the town of New Goshen. Jerry is twelve (again, another Goosebumps staple) and makes the rookie mistake of being a prankster, much to the exasperation of his parents. It’s a rookie mistake because when the old piano in the attic begins to play itself during the night, his parents instantly dismiss Jerry’s claims as his latest prank.

But things get even creepier when the piano is moved downstairs so that Jerry can take lessons. His parents find a local piano tutor called Doctor Shreek (not a sinister name at all…) who has his own piano school in the town. At first, he seems not-at-all-threatening…

Dr Shreek smiled at me. “Hello, Jerry.”
He really did look like Santa Claus, except he had a white moustache and no beard. He had round, red cheeks and a friendly smile, and his blue eyes sort of twinkled as he greeted me.

But Jerry soon hears stories about other kids who have been to the The Shreek School for lessons and were never seen again. Exactly how so many kids can go missing from the same town, and this piano school can stay open when it is the one common denominator in all of these disappearances is a mystery, but perhaps Stine didn’t want his readers to ask that question. Anyway, Jerry continues to have his lessons and notices that the previously non-threatening Dr Shreek has an odd hand fetish…

I muttered thanks. I was surprised to see that his eyes had settled on my hands. “Excellent. Excellent,” he whispered.
I felt a sudden chill.
I think it was the hungry expression on his face.
What’s so special about my hands? I wondered. Why does he like them so much?
It was weird. Definitely weird.
But of course I didn’t know how weird…

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Unfortunately, Jerry isn’t able to recognise the warning signs because he has a supernatural crisis to attend to. That piano that played itself when it was in the attic? Yeah, it’s still playing itself after being moved downstairs. And Jerry’s parents STILL don’t believe him after he sneaks downstairs in the dead of night and sees a friggin’ ghost at the piano, playing away. After several nighttime episodes (where the ghost conveniently vanishes as Jerry’s parents arive), they even send Jerry to see a psychiatrist about his “problem”. See kids, it never plays to be a practical joker that nobody believes. Especially if you live in the pages of a Goosebumps book.

At this point, Piano Lessons Can Be Murder is a reasonably intriguing book. You KNOW that there’s something up with Shreek but there’s also the mystery of the haunted piano which seems to be completely disconnected from the good doctor’s hand obsession and child-swallowing piano school. Where is the danger going to come from?

There’s even time for this hilarious dream sequence that was so ridiculous, I cracked a legitimate smile when reading it…

I tried to stop.
But my hands kept going!
“Stop! Stop!” I screamed down at them in horror.
“Faster! Play faster!” Dr Shreek ordered, his eyes wide with excitement, his face bright red. “The hands are alive!”
“No-please!” Stop!” I called down to my hands. “Stop playing!”
But they really were alive. They wouldn’t stop.
My fingers flew over the keys. A crazy tidal wave of notes flooded the family room.
“Faster! Faster!” the instructor ordered.
And despite my frightened cries to stop, my hands gleefully obeyed him, playing on, faster and faster and faster.
Faster and faster, the music swirled around me.
It’s choking me, I thought, gasping for breath. I can’t breathe.

Find me another book where a character is being suffocated by music. This might be the most ridiculous portion of any Goosebumps book that I have re-visited thus far but at least it was entertaining.

Anyway, Piano Lessons Can Be Murder follows the tried-and-tested Goosebumps formula of hooking the reader before devolving into a ludicrous, rushed mess at the very end. I’m sorry to come out and say that but there it is. If you wanted an intricate and masterfully-crafted conclusion that ties up the plot threads of the haunted piano, Dr Shreek’s hand obsession and the sinister rumours surrounding his school, then you’re going to be let down. This isn’t Charles Dickens or Stephen King, you know.

But just in case…

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In the last quarter of the book, we are introduced to Mr Toggle, the caretaker of The Shreek School who also happens to be an inventor, making all kinds of robots and machines…in a piano school.

Jerry then stumbles onto something that neither Toggle nor Shreek wanted him to see: a room full of pianos being played by floating, dismembered hands! It turns out that Toggle really likes beautiful music but, because human hands are apparently so difficult to create artificially, he has to lure promising young talents to the piano school so that he can steal their hands. Oh, and Dr Shreek is a robot, created by Toggle. And the ghost in Jerry’s house? A student of the Shreek school who had her hands taken and – we can only assume – died as a result, as did all of the other missing kids. New Goshen’s police department must either be incredibly inept or incredibly well bribed!

The situation looks bleak for our Jerry but, just before Toggle can harvest his hands too, the ghost from Jerry ‘s house shows up and teams up with the ghosts of all the other murdered kids to swamp Toggle and carry him off screaming into the adjacent woods. Everything I’ve detailed in the last two paragraphs happens in the last ten pages by the way, so there’s all the build up only for another utterly insane Goosebumps resolution to be vomited out at lightspeed.

Overall, I did enjoy Piano Lessons Can Be Murder, regardless of the mental ending. Up until the closing ten to fifteen pages, there is genuine mystery and I didn’t know whether it would be the ghost in Jerry’s house or Dr Shreek that would turn out to be the actual horror. As it happened, it was neither but I’d be lying if I said that the finale was satisfying.

The cover:

This one is pretty cool, even if it does sort-of give away Shreek’s robotic secret. I love the glowing, red Terminator-style eye and the pink/blue colour scheme of the bubbling slime. And, as ever, the artist’s work is incredibly lifelike.

The incredibly dated bit:

A twelve year-old willingly taking piano lessons? This always seemed more of an American thing to me so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong and there are still lots of US-based kids who take piano lessons. But just in case, we have another outdated 90’s Nintendo reference in a Goosebumps book to play back-up:

I wondered what Mum and Dad planned to do with all those rooms.
I decided to suggest that one of them be made into a Nintendo room. We could put a widescreen TV in there to play the games on. It would be really great.

The nostalgia rating:

For this one, I’m going to have to say that it’s fairly low. I don’t remember reading Piano Lessons Can Be Murder so it might one of the few Goosebumps books that slipped through my net when I was younger.

Up Next: Be Careful What You Wish For

Why I don’t give a crap about Black Friday

It’s almost (at the time of writing, of course) THAT time of year again. That time when the populance descend on supermarkets and retail shopping parks like lunatics and tear the places apart in their determination to feel smug about “saving” money. I am of course referring to Black Friday, the (now) annual premier shopping ‘event’ on the consumer calendar.

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From what I understand, Black Friday has been around for a long time in America. Here, in the UK, we’ve only had the pleasure of hosting it since 2014. ASDA (our British branch of Walmart) attempted to get a Black Friday thing going in 2013 and this was the last of the low-key efforts before it finally took off the following year. It was (rightfully) criticised as “Americanism” and that’s no offence directed at any of you American-based readers. It’s just that a lot of people over here tend to get a little disgruntled over our culture being overwritten by American traditions, entertainment and celebrities.

(Oh, and woe betide anybody who spells a word the American way when you are based in the UK!)

2014 was the first big year for Black Friday in the UK and it was – in my opinion – a complete embarassment that exposed the very ugliest, mindless and sheep-like behaviour in people. Shoppers got so swept up in trying to grab the bargains before anybody else that police had to be called in to deal with grid-locked traffic and threatening behaviour in stores. There were even assaults! Can you imagine fighting somebody over a cut-price TV? I don’t understand it but I guess there are people out there who don’t even need to imagine the concept…because THEY were involved! It was so bad that ASDA didn’t take part in 2015’s Black Friday sales due to the negative publicity and general chaos that occured in its stores.

The madness was big news in 2014 and you would have hoped that it had ended there but this is the real world (unfortunately) and so Black Friday continued to grow and grow because increasing amounts of money and fatter sales figures were involved. Now we have this big beast of a shopping event that is advertised well in advance and has even become a Black Week for some retailers. You can even get Black Friday deals on non-tangible products such as broadband contracts.

But I’m here to tell you why I simply don’t give a crap about Black Friday and refuse to be swept up in the hysteria and hunting for “bargains”.

Firstly, there is only ONE type of person that actually “wins” during Black Friday: the person who was already in the market for a specific product and waits until Black Friday to secure it at a discount. It’s the person who was already going to buy an item and spend money on it.

All these people who get in their cars, battle for parking spaces, then hit the stores and load up their credit cards with heaps of purchases that they hadn’t previously planned? Congratulations, you’ve lost. You’ve been played like a fiddle by the monstrous marketing machine that sits behinds the scenes, steam belching from its pipes with every bellow of laughter. Because here’s the thing: you haven’t saved ANY money if you buy shit that you weren’t even going to buy before you saw it with a Black Friday sticker slapped on the box. That applies to ALL sales and store reductions during the year. If you score a product with an RRP of £50 for £30, you haven’t saved £20. What you’ve done is spend £30 that you otherwise wouldn’t have. You’re worse off AND you’ve jumped when the big businesses and marketing men have cried “jump!”

Fuck that shit – seriously.

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One for any American readers out there (the Thanksgiving joke doesn’t really translate well here in Britain).

Now, some people might read my view on all this and call me a killjoy or a boring fuck with a superiority complex. That’s fine. Go out and fill up the boot of your car with “deals”. But be prepared to take the credit card bills or shortfall in your available bank balance on the chin when an unexpected expense crops up. “But I have loads of money – I can AFFORD to go big on Black Friday,” I hear another person argue (all of these imaginary voices in my head aren’t healthy). Well, that’s fine too but I hope you’re happy with being the little, predictable bitch of the retailers. I also hope that all the importance that you’re attaching to those hard-fought-for material prizes goods, and all that consumerism that you’re gorging on, isn’t just a diversion – a distraction – from the real problems and challenges in your life. You’d be amazed at how quickly a new TV or iphone loses its sparkly lustre…

When I see the footage of people queuing for miles outside of shops, or crowds of feverish shoppers shoving their way into a store, it just strikes me as embarassing. And the raised aggression has no excuse. So you missed out on the last one; big deal – it’s just the way it is. Don’t lower yourself to clawing at somebody else and trying to rip a product out of their hands. Imagine that the roles were reversed; would YOU want some crazed person launching themselves at YOU and attempting to prise something from your arms? No, I didn’t think so.

I must also spare a thought for the shop workers during Black Friday! I have heard all sorts of stories about verbal and even physical abuse aimed at retail employees because something was out of stock or because the queue to pay was too long. Some of it is simply outrageous – customers acting like rabid, wild animals fighting over the last piece of meat clinging to the bones of a dead beast. People working in shops aren’t paid enough to deal with this shit. They don’t get any sort of bonus or extra pay for enduring abuse. Their job is to serve you at the pay point or fill the shelves. It isn’t to magic-up another batch of cut-price blenders which doesn’t exist, or to magic you to the front of the queue – it’s to perform the same roles that they would on any other given shift, for the same pay. There is absolutely zero excuse for losing your rag with store employees or treating them like second-rate pieces of shit for working a minimum wage job. Shame on the business owners too for facilitating the Black Friday insanity and putting their employees on the front lines where the furious customer is “always right” (they really aren’t).

All of this aside, I really don’t want to chase material gains. Yes, I still buy things but I’ll weigh up whether I actually NEED to buy something and if I do still want it? Then I’ll just buy it anyway, not wait for Black Friday or some other sale.

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[Source]
I see horrific traffic congestion in my town all the time at the local retail shopping park – lines upon lines of stationary cars struggling to squeeze in. Next comes the driving-around-and-around-for-ages-to-find-a-space game which can only end with an aggressive play where a car speeds into a vacated spot before another waiting car can do the same. Horns blare and yummy-mummies (who clearly don’t need to work on a Friday…) tear up the parking zones in bloated SUVs or excessively powerful Range Rovers. Then comes the shopping itself…the crowds, the queues, the being rammed by other people’s trollies…

And this is all on a normal week! Black Friday is even worse. I can only ask myself, “why on earth would anybody put themselves through all of that?”. Even sitting at home, why would I want to spend hours on overloaded websites, trying to snag a cheap videogame or something from a Black Friday sale? As I’ve already said, fuck that shit.

In conclusion, Black Friday is – in my opinion – a really bad thing. If you want to see the very worst of western consumerism and people giving too many fucks about insignificant things, then Black Friday is the time to see those things at their very peak.

So, we went to the moon…

2019 marks fifty years since man first set foot on the moon. It was an extraordinary achievement and a huge moment for our species, the magnitude of which I think is often taken for granted these days. The mathematics and engineering behind the mission were incredible. The same can be said for the mission structure and how such a meticulously-devised operation was pulled off as planned, with the crew all returning to Earth safely.

It was such a big moment for a species that had, less than a hundred years previous, still been traversing the globe aboard wooden ships reliant on wind. Neil Armstrong’s famous quote of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was the perfect way to summarise what NASA’s scientists and  – by extension – the human race had achieved.

I will sometimes look up at the moon and remind myself that men have been up there and walked on that far-off surface. Even now, it still strikes me as surreal, as if such a thing should belong firmly in the realm of fantasy.

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But when I then think of what we have achieved as a race since 1969, I cannot help but wonder if we have stalled somewhat. Obviously, things have been achieved – too many to list, in fact. We have had so many breakthroughs in regards to technology, medicine, science and the understanding of our planet, for example.

But we haven’t (in my opinion) done anything nearly as momentous as breaking free of the Earth’s gravity and successfully landing on an alien surface. If the moon landing was considered a precursor to even bigger and previously unthinkable achievements to follow, then I don’t believe we have lived up to that potential.

Instead, our “advancements” have been all about bigger and better ways to entertain our brains; more ways to sell products and services to the populance; new ways to make money; better methods of numbing our brains and, of course, more efficient ways to kill each other. In short, we have done a damn good job of increasing the comfort level of our lives and extending our life expectancy but we’ve not really taken many major steps towards propelling the human race to greater heights. In fact, you could even say that we have regressed in many ways. Take a look at what people are complaining about on social media or what the latest “big” news stories are and ask yourself just how important any of this shit is in the grand scheme of things. It’s quite sobering.

We’ve also trapped ourselves with our systems of money and finance. When NASA had its funding cut in the wake of the financial crisis, for example, it meant that research into projects that could push man forward was compromised. So we sacrifice progress to protect money and the economy; man-made concepts that actually hold us back. The focus is on the rich getting richer, the elite protecting their position(s) and the struggle for power. None of this is helpful in the big picture sense. It’s all dick-waving and greed that feeds short-term ambition and selfish gain. And all of these gains will mean nothing when the recipients are dead and buried.

The truth is, we could probably achieve a hell of a lot more if we just DID things rather than holding back because of funding problems or because of opposition. Obviously, this is all necessary to a degree if we wish to maintain order and a functioning society but even so, it’s something to think about. I think so anyway.

Book Review: IT (Stephen King, 1985)

DSC_0498Year: 1985
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: New English Library (version reviewed)
Format: Paperback (version reviewed)
Pages: 1116 (version reviewed)
ISBN: 0450411435

“To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.

It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing…

The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.

Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as it stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.”

Stephen King’s IT is one of those books that has long since transcended into pop-culture. Even those who have never picked up a book have possibly watched the original 1990 mini-series or the recent big screen two-parter (released in 2017 and 2019). Tim Curry’s 1990 version of Pennywise the clown is also widely held responsible for so many adults’ irrational fear of clowns. Indeed, IT is probably the most successful of all adaptations based on King’s books.

I first read IT a long time ago (and only the once) but the book instantly became a firm favourite of mine. This year I have been digging out quite a few of my favourite books and revisiting them. At last, I have gotten around to IT – actually a decent commitment to make given the size of the book! This paperback version I have is just over 1100 pages so it’s definitely one of the most voluminous Stephen King books.

And it isn’t difficult to see why IT is such a whopper of a tome. This is Stephen King at his unrestrained best. I’m sure that stuff was cut or re-worked but even so, I didn’t get the sense that the author was forced to hold back or be overly concise. The detail and world-building is indulgent; the main characters and the supporting cast incredibly well fleshed-out. Best of all, IT is a real page-turner and not a single page felt like unnecessary, excessive filler.

The voice broke up in a series of choking hiccups and suddenly a bright red bubble backed up the drain and popped, spraying beads of blood on the distained porcelain.
The choking voice spoke rapidly now, and as it spoke it changed: now it was the young voice of the child that she had first heard, now it was a teenaged girl’s voice, now – horribly – it became the voice of a girl Beverly had known…Veronica Grogan. But Veronica was dead, she had been found dead in a sewer drain –
“I’m Matthew…I’m Betty…I’m Veronica…we’re down here…down here with the clown…and the creature…and the mummy…and the werewolf…and you, Beverly, we’re down here with you, and we float, and we change…”
A gout of blood suddenly belched from the drain, splattering the sink and the mirror and the wallpaper with its frogs-and-lily-pads pattern. Beverly screamed, suddenly and piercingly. She backed away from the sink, struck the door, rebounded, clawed it open, and ran for the living room, where her father was just getting to his feet.

The most captivating part of this book is the characters because they are all just so likable and you – the reader – really feel as if you are a part of their group. Even the antagonists – the bully Henry Bowers and his friends, Pennywise/IT and other random unsavouries – are endearing in their own way. This is because Stephen King really knows how to write characters and make them living, breathing and believable. He also knows how to make them relatable. In this respect, IT is a tour-de-force of King’s talent.

The story jumps back and forth between the events of 1958 and 1985, providing two versions of the main characters to get acquainted with. Obviously, their adult versions from ’85 are easier to relate to but it’s their eleven/twelve year-old selves that are much more interesting. This is because IT does such a good job of reminding you what it was like to be a child, how we viewed the world through naive/uninformed eyes and what sorts of irrational fears we hid from. There’s definitely a coming-of-age element to IT as Bill, Ben, Beverly, Mike, Stan, Richie and Eddie have to deal with the strange world of adults as well as confront the evil lurking beneath Derry, guided by seemingly immovable forces that they don’t understand.

As with every other Stephen King book that I have read, however, I can’t say that the horror aspect of IT scared or disturbed me, but that’s just me. It’s certainly a grisly book though, with some graphic deaths. There are also a fair few explicit bits involving minors, such as the moment between Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter at the town dump and, of course, the infamous sex scene in the sewers where Beverly loses her virginity to all of the boys, one after the other, as a form of ritual to keep them – as a group – close and the magic, that protects them, alive. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if King (and authors in general) would actively avoid such content these days because of how “sensitive” everybody is. This is a shame because these parts of IT aren’t presented in a needlessly-gratuitous or glorified fashion; they are just what they are.

There is also this very cool cameo from Christine, King’s famous killer car. Christine is one of my absolute favourite books so I really enjoyed this.

A sound impinged on his consciousness and began to grow. It was a car engine. It drew closer. Henry’s eyes widened in the dark. He held the knife more tightly, waiting for the car to pass by.
It didn’t. It drew up at the curb beyond the seminary hedge and simply stopped there, engine idling. Grimacing (his belly was stiffening now; it had gone board-hard, and the blood seeping sluggishly between his fingers had the consistency of sap just before you took the taps out of the maples in late March or early April), he got on his knees and pushed aside the stiff hedge-branches. He could see headlights and the shape of a car. Cops? His hand squeezed the knife and relaxed, squeezed and relaxed, squeezed and relaxed.
I sent you a ride Henry, the voice whispered. Sort of a taxi, if you can dig that. After all, we have to get you over to the Town House pretty soon. The night’s getting old.
The voice uttered one thin bonelike chuckle and fell silent. Now the only sounds were the crickets and the steady rumble of the idling car. Sounds like cherry-bomb mufflers, Henry thought distractedly.

He reached the intersection of the seminary path and the sidewalk and peered at the car, trying to make sense of the hulk behind the wheel. But it was the car he recognised first – it was the one his father always swore he would own someday, a 1958 Plymouth Fury. It was red and white and Henry knew (hadn’t his father told him often enough?) that the engine rumbling under the hood was a V-8 327. Horsepower of 255, able to hit seventy from the git-go in just about nine seconds, gobbling hi-test through its four-barrel carb.

I suppose the revealing of IT’s true form deserves a mention because I know that many were disappointed with the monster – after all the different ways it changed its shape to match an individual’s fears – turning out to be a giant spider. This has often been derided as a weak and uninspired finale but IT only appears in this form to the children because its actual form cannot be comprehended by human minds, and so it takes a physical shape that resembles one of the most common fears of humans. As for the conclusion itself, things do get a bit wacky, cosmic and spiritual and I can see why this spoiled the book for some, but I – personally – wasn’t left wanting.

IT just has so much going for it: the characters that you really connect with; the charismatic evil of Pennywise; the drip-fed lore of the town of Derry and how it has been tainted by mysterious, sinister events; the incredibly rich detail. I’ve said it several times before on this blog, but I really believe that Stephen King doesn’t do stories like IT anymore. The quality of his writing remains undisputed and, yes, he has written some large epics in recent years that describe the journey or evolution of a small town and its inhabitants (Under the Dome, for example) but for other, similar examples that centre around raw, supernatural horror, you have to go back to the likes of Salem’s Lot and Needful Things.

IT is simply one of the all-time Stephen King greats and absolutely warrants its status as a must-read. Additionally, if you’ve only ever watched the cinematic versions of IT, you have likely missed out on a lot of the detail and the inner thoughts of characters that only a book can provide.

In short, if you haven’t already, go and read IT. If you have, and it’s been a while? Read it again.

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong

If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you may be familiar with my posts on the subject of materialism. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t completely sorted on my definition of materialism nor my use of terminology.

I’m not taking back anything that I’ve previously said on the burden of materialism, the fallacy of happiness being defined by material goods or the healthy practice of cutting down on materialism. All of that? I still stand by it. I still believe in it.

But I certainly put my foot in it when I accused my sister of being materialistic. I was being casual about it but she didn’t take it well and, initially, I couldn’t see what I’d said wrong. As it turned out, I’d got my terminology completely wrong. Y’see, she is easily advertised and sold to (by her own admission!) and can’t help spending, spending, spending on stuff that she really doesn’t need. Really, this is better described as consumerism.

From Collins:
“Consumerism is the belief that it is good to buy and use a lot of goods. “

Of course, you might still describe my sister’s actions as “materialism”…

From Collins:
Materialism is the attitude of someone who attaches a lot of importance to money and wants to possess a lot of material things.”

BUT, I specifically used the word “materialistTIC” and it slowly dawned on me that there might be some differences between “materialistic” and “materialism”…after being (angrily) informed by my sister of what it means to be materialistic. A great many of us are guilty of materialism after all, but a materialistic attitude is a bit different and not necessarily something that comes hand-in-hand with materialism itself.

She was upset by me describing her as materialistic because being materialistic is to put material items and possessions above people and experiences. By her own admissions, she can’t help spending money and buying excessive amounts of clothes and other stuff BUT she doesn’t put her stuff above the people in her life.

And I – of all people – should have known that.

But instead, I was an asshole, trying to throw about my “wisdom”.

So I was wrong, and that’s the big takeaway from this post. It’s important to be able to listen to the criticism of others and review your own actions/words. It’s okay to say, “you know what? I was wrong there.” But, unfortunately, it’s often much easier (and satisfying) to forge onwards and refuse to admit that you made a mistake; refuse to acknowledge that there is even the slightest outfield chance that you weren’t right.

Because we’re all wrong a LOT of the time. We just need to be open to this fact and be willing to take it on the chin.

 

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #11: The Haunted Mask (R.L.Stine, 1993)

hauntedmask-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

What have I done with this series? Well, it’s time to get back to business and continue powering through these sixty-two Goosebumps books. Book eleven is The Haunted Mask; a fairly memorable one thanks to its simple yet unnerving plot…

The Blurb

Carly Beth wants a special mask for Hallowe’en. A mask so ugly – so hideous – that even her best friends are totally creeped out by it.

Now Carly Beth has found her special mask – and it’s perfect! Everything she hoped it would be, and more…

Maybe too much more. Because even though Hallowe’en is over, Carly Beth is still wearing that mask…

Carly Beth scares easily, and her friends KNOW it. In fact, the first twenty pages of The Haunted Mask set the scene for Carly Beth’s desire to wreak revenge on these so-called friends, as their practical jokes push her too far. It’s been a long time since I was an eleven year-old, so maybe I’ve just forgotten what it was like at that age, but these “friends”…are assholes!

Carly Beth uttered a disgusted groan and spat the chewed-up mouthful of sandwich into a napkin. Then she pulled the bread apart – and saw a big brown worm resting on top of the turkey.
“Ohh!” With a moan, she covered her face with her hands.
The room erupted with laughter. Cruel laughter.
“I ate a worm. I-I’m going to be sick!” Carly Beth groaned. She jumped to her feet and stared angrily at Steve. “How could you?” she demanded. “It isn’t funny. It’s-it’s-“
“It isn’t a real worm,” Chuck said. Steve was laughing too hard to talk.
“Huh?” Carly Beth gazed down at it and felt a wave of nausea rise up from her stomach.
“It isn’t real. It’s rubber. Pick it up,” Chuck urged.
Carly Beth hesitated.
Kids all through the vast room were whispering and pointing at her. And laughing.
“Go ahead. It isn’t real. Pick it up,” Chuck said, grinning.
Carly Beth reached down with two fingers and reluctantly picked the brown worm from the sandwich. It felt warm and sticky.
“Gotcha again!” Chuck said with a laugh.
It was real! A real worm!

Seriously, fuck these guys. That said, I doubt that this would even register on the savage-o-meter of kids these days so maybe Carly Beth actually had it easy in 1993?

Anyway, CB decides that she has had enough and absolutely HAS to pay her friends back, especially Chuck and Steve. And what better time to orchestrate a major scare than Hallowe’en? It’s going to take something pretty special to make Chuck and Steve leap out of their skin however, so Carly Beth is thrilled when she finds the most disgusting, realistic mask of all in the back room of the new party shop in town.

The store’s owner doesn’t want to sell any of the masks from the back room however. He tells Carly Beth that they are not for sale. These masks are apparently too scary. But Carly Beth is insistent and digs in…

“Thirty dollars,” Carly Beth said, shoving the folded-up notes into the man’s hand. “I’ll  give you thirty dollars for it. That’s enough, isn’t it?”
“It’s not a matter of money,” he told her. “These masks are not for sale.” With an exasperated sigh, he started towards the doorway that led to the front of the shop.
“Please! I need it. I really need it!” Carly Beth begged, chasing after him.
“These masks are too real,” he insisted, gesturing to the shelves. “I’m warning you-“
“Please? Please?”
He shut his eyes. “You will be sorry.”
“No, I won’t. I know I won’t!” Carly Beth exclaimed gleefully, seeing that he was about to give in.

FLW-1

Armed with her new grotesque mask, Carly Beth hits the 1993 Hallowe’en trick-or-treat run and achieves everything she sets out to do…and more. She succeeds in scaring Chuck and Steve but, on the downside, she starts to feel odd. Suddenly, Carly Beth is feeling all hot and aggressive, leaping about and howling like an enraged animal. She even steals sweet bags from other kids! And as for that aggression…

Her anger raged through her chest. Her whole body was trembling. She felt about to burst.
I’m going to tear this woman apart! Carly Beth decided. I’ll chew her to bits! I’ll tear her skin off her bones! Furious thoughts raged through Carly Beth’s mind.

Er…yeah. Chill out, girl.

It’s obvious to the reader but not – apparently – to Carly Beth: the mask is taking over. Seems like that store owner had a bit of a valid point back there, huh? The truth finally hits her back at her best friend Sabrina’s house.

Sabrina ran a hand through her black hair. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration.
“Carly Beth,” she said finally, “there’s something very weird going on here.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Carly Beth demanded.
“There’s no bottom to the mask.”
“Huh?” Carly Beth’s hands shot up to her neck. She felt around frantically. “What do you mean?”
“There’s no line,” Sabrina told her in a trembling voice. “There’s no line between the mask and your skin. No place to slip my hand in.”

Oh dear. Looks like Carly Beth should have taken the store owner’s warning a little more seriously! So she races back to the shop, desperate for help from the store owner, only to be informed that there is no cure. Except, there is. Gotta hold something back for those dramatic end-of-chapter cliffhangers to work, after all. He tells Carly Beth that the mask can only be removed once, using a symbol of love. After that, it will bond permanently to the wearer’s face should they put it on again.

Up until this point, The Haunted Mask was pretty cool. The concept of an evil mask grafting itself to the wearer’s face and turning them into a monster was good and you can imagine the claustrophobic panic that you would feel in Carly Beth’s shoes. But, in typical Goosebumps fashion, the conclusion lets things down somewhat. These extremely random rules that the store owner informs Carly Beth of aren’t explained. Worse still, there is some backstory about how he created the masks – real faces –  himself in a lab and they became monstrous (for some unexplained reason) once they were removed from the lab.

If all of that is too silly for you then the following sequence turns events up to eleven. The other masks begin to wake up and Carly Beth ends up fleeing the shop with the masks flying after her down the street! Of course, nobody else witnesses this. It wouldn’t be a Goosebumps book without a kid running away in terror from something supernatural while the entire populance of the town just happen to be oblivious to it all.

The conclusion was weak in my opinion, even by Goosebumps‘ far-fetched standards. Carly Beth does eventually get the mask off but there is a last-page twist which nobody should win a prize for predicting.

Overall, The Haunted Mask is a fun book, let down (in my opinion) by a daft few closing chapters. We’ll have to see, in due course, whether The Haunted Mask II does a better job.

The Cover:

Pretty cool. The artist nailed Carly Beth with her whole head taken over by a seriously ugly, gargoyle-like mask.

The incredibly dated bit:

Probably when Carly Beth is first exploring the party shop and sees Freddy Krueger and ET masks. You KNOW that this is an early 90’s book with characters like that.

The nostalgia rating:

I’m going to say “low” for The Haunted Mask. I did read this one back in the day but I didn’t remember much about it other than the general premise. I actually read The Haunted Mask II first.

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