Book Talk: Topical Reading…

The world is currently on lockdown due to a certain virus (seriously, just fuck off already) and, as a result, it’s a bit gloomy out there (understatement of 2020, I’m sure). So what did I decide to do to cheer myself up?

Bake cakes?
Binge some boxsets?
Get stuck into a time-sink of a videogame?

No, no and no. I actually decided to read a book about a government-developed virus that escapes, wipes out most of the human race, and draws a line under society and civilisation as we know it. Of course.

The book in question would be Stephen King’s The Stand – a book widely regarded as one of his greatest epics. The regular version of The Stand is good and all but, for me, the only option is the seriously hefty Complete and Uncut Edition – a fat tome that surpasses 1400 pages.

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I have read this book before but it’s one of a handful of Stephen King novels that I’ve only experienced once. This whole virus situation reminded me of The Stand‘s plot so I decided to dig the book out and cross it off the “to re-read” list. After all, I recalled really enjoying it the first time around, and they do say that you should always go back for seconds of a good thing.

If you aren’t familiar with the Uncut edition of The Stand, then here is a brief explanation straight from the mouth of King himself:

For the purposes of this book, what’s important is that approximately four hundred pages of manuscript were deleted from the final draft. The reason was no an editorial one; if that had been the case, I would be content to let the book live its life and die its eventual death as it was originally published.
The cuts were made at the behest of the accounting department. They toted up production costs, laid these next to the hardcover sales of my previous four books, and decided that a cover price of £6.95 was about what the market would bear (compare that price to this one, friends and neighbours!).

I haven’t restored all four hundred of the missing pages; there is a difference between doing it right and just being downright vulgar. Some of what was left on the cutting room floor when I turned in the truncated version deserved to be left there, and there it remains. Other things, such as Frannie’s confrontation with her mother early in the book, seem to add that richness and dimension that I, as a reader, enjoy deeply.

The end result is that an already-great book became even better, thanks to that extra dimension and character development.

And while that character development is ongoing during the book’s early phases, the Captain Trips virus is spreading throughout America in a way that eerily mirrors the current Covid-19 outbreak. Captain Trips is far more lethal, but the ease with which it spreads certainly prodded the paranoia lurking at the back of my mind.

The main characters and their backstories are gradually introduced to the reader even while Captain Trips is doing its thing in the background. It begins with the odd mention here and there of a supporting or very minor character suffering with a “summer cold” or a runny nose, and  – at first – it seems pretty innocuous, even though we (the reader) know what the real deal is. It allows the main characters (who obviously have a natural immunity to the virus) to unfold within the pages while the virus remains ever-present in the background. It’s fairly chilling, and almost comparable to a horror movie ghoul creeping up on an unsuspecting victim, because you just KNOW that the lives and supporting cast of each character can’t outrun the indiscriminate, killer virus forever. At some point, it will step into the foreground and demand recognition. It reminds me of how Covid-19 began as a mid-tier news item on the TV before it dominated our every waking minute.

I’m not going to go too deep into The Stand or even review it properly in this post but, suffice to say, things get a LOT worse, very rapidly, and some very shady shit goes down as the US government and the military attempt to cover their tracks and stop a crumbling society from uncovering the truth; that their own leaders developed and inadvertedly released the killer virus.

That’s all just the first act of the book, mind. I told you it was huuuuuge.

Oh, and it also stars one of my all-time favourite fictional villains: the evil Randall Flagg who has appeared in numerous King books such as The Dark Tower and The Eyes of the Dragon. That alone makes The Stand worth reading for me.

Coronavirus Diary: March-April

Well, this virus thing got pretty serious, huh? Admittedly, I was a little flippant about the whole thing in my previous C-Virus posts and I suppose, as a result, I might come across as a bit of an ignorant arsehole in said posts.

Regardless, I am still here. I haven’t posted anything for a while simply because I’ve been absolutely shattered courtesy of work and haven’t had any creative juices left in the tank once I get home. So reviewing books and shit has been out of the question.

I work in food wholesale so I am classed as a “key worker”. On the positive side, this means that I am still going to work, still getting paid in full, and still partaking in a routine that keeps me from being shut indoors at home. I feel that it’s important to make clear that I am fully aware of these upsides – and grateful for them – at a time when job security, income and simple routines aren’t givens.

Unfortunately, this tough time seems to have brought out the worst in our customers at a time when we should be banding together. Every day it’s

  • An onlsaught of rude punters
  • Massive queues
  • Arguments
  • Battles over short-supply items
  • Confrontations over refusal to adhere to distancing and numbers of people permitted in the building
  • Customers promising that they will “remember this” when it’s all over, and reminding us that they are keeping us in business
  • An avalanche of theft

All of this at a time when almost half of our staff have been sent home for three months due to being in an at-risk category. We are staying open for these people, putting ourselves at risk, and trying to keep the supply chain going, but we are being repaid with the crap listed above. It’s exhausting and headaches are now an almost daily occurence. Many of us have lost sleep or feel physically ill about coming to work and dealing with another full day of this shit.

All of that said, it’s nothing compared to what doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals are facing. Even though I am classed as a “key worker” (and have a document in my car’s glovebox to prove it, in case I am pulled by the fuzz), I like to remain realistic. I’m simply continuing to attend work, because it just so happens to be a business that needs to remain open. I’m no hero and I don’t ask for thanks or some sort of big deal to be made about my contributions. All I ask is for some civility and less animal-like behaviour from our customers, so that we can go home at the end of the day and NOT feel as if we’ve been hit by a freight train or two.

I do have a few more Coronavirus-related posts that I wanted to put out but, in all honesty, I’m not sure that I will do them. Aside from the aforementioned creativity-murdering shifts at the ol’ workhouse, I think we’re all just absolutely sick of talking about the situation and having our humanity sapped from us by the lockdown/social distancing stuff.

So keep yo’ selves safe and I’ll be back soon with something.

Book Review: Joyland Illustrated Edition (Stephen King, 2015)

DSC_0118Year: 2015 (Illustrated Edition), 2013 (original)
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
Format: Hardcover (Illustrated Edition)
Pages: 304
ISBN: 9781783295326

[note: this is a slightly tweaked version of a review previously published on my other blog, in 2018]

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life – and what comes after – that would change his world forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old – and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time – Joyland is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, Joyland is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled of readers profoundly moved.

As an avid Stephen King follower who has read almost everything by the author, I have to begin this review by admitting that I consider most of his modern output to live in the shadows cast by his earlier, more horror-centric classics such as The Stand, Salem’s Lot and Christine. Don’t get me wrong though: I love the newer books and never fail to get into them proper but it’s rare that I can wax lyrical about them as I can with the old stuff.

Joyland is a rare and welcome exception though. The book is short by Stephen King standards and – here in the UK at least – was published under the “Hard Case Crime” banner so it was a little different straight away. In fact, Joyland‘s release had somehow passed me by until I was given it as a Christmas gift back in 2013.

Joyland‘s story is brief but powerful and contains a splash of the supernatural (it IS a Stephen King book, after all) but is largely grounded in reality and tells the story of Devin Jones, a young college student who takes a summer job at a carnival-style amusement park called Joyland. It is at Joyland that he meets new friends, has new experiences and tries to move on from the first girl to break his heart. The central plot strand running through Joyland focuses on a series of unsolved, violent murders – the last one occuring at the park itself – and while Devin’s investigation of these killings is the vehicle that keeps the story moving, Joyland is actually much more.

Joyland is a story about love, being young and foolish and growing up. We’ve all been there at Devin’s age and through his eyes I was able to recall my own similar experiences, flawed perceptions and heartaches. I found that I really cared about the characters in this book – Devin especially – and wanted the best ending for them but, as we eventually learn in real life, happy endings aren’t always possible and our naive, young selves have to learn these lessons along the road. If I had to pick just one theme from Joyland that I especially enjoyed, then I would have to go with the the theme of growth. The book is short by Stephen King standards but, even so, the reader gets to share Devin’s journey as circumstances force him to mature from a lost university student – only out for some summer work – into a young adult.

That was my afternoon for provoking tears. First Eddie, now Annie. Mike was dry-eyed, though, and he looked every but as furious as I felt. But he said nothing as she grabbed the handles of his wheelchair, spun it around, and drove it at the door. I thought she was going to crash into them, but the magic eye got them open just in time.
Let them go, I thought, but I was tired of letting women go. I was tired of just letting things happen to me and then feeling bad about them.
A nurse approached me. “Is everything all right?”
“No,” I said, and followed them out.

As I’ve said, the book is short yet King nevertheless manages to squeeze a lot of emotion, rich detail and believable character development into such a limited space. Joyland packs a real punch without being a novel of three to four times the size and it hooked me quicker and harder than many of his bigger, more sprawling books. Most of all though, the story and characters are incredibly endearing and it was the kind of book that I genuinely didn’t want to finish because I simply couldn’t get enough of the world that Stephen King had created within the pages of Joyland.

Overall I would recommend Joyland to any Stephen King fan without hesitation but even if you aren’t familiar with his work then I would be just as firm with my recommendation, because this is a great story with highly relatable characters that anybody can enjoy. What I’m saying is don’t be put off by King’s name being on the cover if you aren’t a fan of horror. Joyland has all the quality writing and authentic characterisation that are associated with the writer but it IS different.

The ‘Illustrated Edition’ is a special treat, too. This hardcover edition sports its own unique, gloriously pulpy cover art and contains more than twenty illustrations of varying (but always old-school) styles from Pat Kinsella, Robert McGinnes and Mark Summers. These – along with the purposely-manufactured crude deckle edge finish to the book – really make you feel as if you are holding a classic pulp mystery in your hands.

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Joyland is – without a doubt in my mind – one of the very best Stephen King books of the last decade. If you’ve missed this, then you need to give it a go ASAP.

Book Review: Cell (Stephen King, 2006)

cell-1Year: 2006
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder (UK)
Format: Paperback (reviewed)
Pages: 350
ISBN: 9780340921531

[note: this is a slightly tweaked version of a review previously published on my other blog, in 2018]

On October 1, God is in His heaven, the stock market stands at 10,140, most of the planes are on time, and graphic artist Clayton Riddell is visiting Boston, having just landed a deal that might finally enable him to make art instead of teaching it. But all those good feelings about the future change in a hurry thanks to a devastating phenomenon that will come to be known as The Pulse. The delivery method is a cell phone – everyone’s cell phone. Now Clay and the the few desperate survivors who join him suddenly find themselves in the pitch-black night of civilisation’s darkest age, surrounded by chaos, carnage and a relentless human horde that has been reduced to its basest nature…and then begins to evolve. There’s really no escaping this nightmare. But for Clay, an arrow points the way home to his family in Maine, and as he and his fellow refugees make their harrowing journey north, they begin to see the crude signs confirming their direction. A promise of a safe haven, perhaps, or quite possibly the deadliest trap of all…

Stephen King’s Cell is – in my opinion – the sort of book that becomes a bit more relevant with each passing year. The story’s broken civilisation setting is nothing new and the ‘journey’ format, starring a group of survivors heading out into a new world full of danger, has been done before by the same writer (see The Stand for one example) but the fact that mobile phones are the cause of doom and destruction? Well, that part seems more and more plausible with each passing year.

We do after all, live in a world where so many rely on their phone for so much. People are glued to them on buses, trains and even in social gatherings where they are supposed to be communicating with real people (remember those?). Drivers would rather risk crashing, whilst crawling in traffic, than missing a vital Facebook update and there is of course, an app for everything.

So Cell’s premise of a brain-scrambling virus distributed globally via mobile networks, and wiping any trace of civilisation from their owner’s minds, doesn’t seem so far-fetched as a form of cyber terrorism that could metaphorically nuke most of the world’s population in one fell swoop. The book doesn’t focus on who was responsible for this attack or where they orchestrated it from because that isn’t the point. Instead, Cell takes the reader on a journey with a group of survivors who are thrown together in the wake of this catastrophe because they were either fortunate enough to not have their phone with them or because they didn’t own one in the first place.

There is the typical rich, satisfying detail that you’d expect to find in a Stephen King book, especially with regards to the primal, unfeeling violence that those affected by the cellular virus (known as ‘The Pulse’) inflict on others in the immediate aftermath. It feels real and a fair prediction of what might actually happen should such an event hit a technology-reliant Western society. As with any Stephen King book, no punches are pulled when it comes to the description of the violence and gore and this only helps make the survivors’ situation feel even more vivid.

Once the initial impact of The Pulse has brought civilisation to its knees, Cell then focuses on the main characters and how their mental state responds to suddenly being thrust into a world drowning in nonsensical madness, where only the fittest will survive. The main character is an everyman up-and-coming artist named Clayton Riddell who just wants to get home and find his young son, hoping that he hasn’t switched his phone on and that he still lives. He joins up with other survivors – who have their own harrowing stories – and they set out to escape Boston, make sense of the situation and find safety.

I really enjoyed Cell the first time I read it and re-reading it today, in 2018, it was just as good. The characters are very likeable and relatable as ordinary, everyday people. The mental journey and development that they go through also feels believable and you – the reader – do feel as if you are on this journey with them (albeit in the safer confines of the real world!) and the book becomes an addictive page-turner like most of Stephen King’s output. I also really enjoyed the detail, the descriptions of the violence and the state of the ruined world.

It’s a testament to King’s writing, and the way that he crafts endearing characters, that Cell also managed to sucker-punch me, striking me right in the feels when one of the group is suddenly killed without warning. It came out of nowhere and genuinely made me angry towards the killer! I can’t say that I experience that sort of emotive response to a book very often.

If I have any criticisms of Cell then they would be the inconclusive ending (which kind of leaves the reader to decide on what ultimately happens) and the fact that some new allies are introduced during the latter stages of the book yet there isn’t really the time to explore their characters and get to like them as anything other than a late-game support cast. I found that I was only there to see what happened to Clay and his original companions, not the new additions to the group.

Overall though, Cell is a great book and one of the better ones in Stephen King’s ‘modern’ lineup. I do tend to prefer the older, horror/supernatural-orientated books but Cell still manages to feel a little like those past glories while also having the other foot planted in a more current era.

Comic Book Review – Savage Red Sonja: Queen of the Frozen Wastes (Dynamite, 2007)

DSC_0125Year: 2006
Format: Trade Paperback (collects issues #1-4 of Savage Red Sonja: Queen of the Frozen Wastes)
Artist(s): Homs (interiors), Frank Cho (Covers), Will Murai (Colours)
Writer(s): Frank Cho, Doug Murray
ISBN: 9781933305387

Savage Red Sonja: Queen of the Frozen Wastes delivers an action-packed story and incredible art as Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword battles the beautiful and deadly Ice Queen and her army of Yeti warriors! Under the Frozen Wastes, Sonja will work to lead and army, and restore the broken spirit of the Ice Queen’s human slaves.

Queen of the Frozen Wastes is my first foray into the world of Red Sonja. I have no doubt that there are much better stories starring the She-Devil with a Sword for me to discover but there were a few reasons that I opted for this particular TPB. Chiefly, it was the Frank Cho covers that drew me in. Cho is one my all-time favourite artists when it comes to depictions of powerful yet immensely sexy and voluptuous women, and his style is a perfect fit for an amazonian warrior woman like Sonja who is incredible to behold (with her ever-impractical chainmail bikini) and totally badass.

Secondly, it’s because I’m a cheapskate! I found this book used on ebay for £8 delivered. You can pay two, three or even four times that for a variant cover of a single, newer Red Sonja issue so being able to pick up a TPB, collecting this four-issue series and all of the variant covers, for less than a tenner seemed like a deal to me.

Unfortunately, Cho is only the cover artist for this series but bitching about that too much would be doing a massive disservice to the interior artist, Homs. I’ve not come across Jose Homs’ work before but I really enjoyed it here in Savage Red Sonja. He has a great understanding of anatomy and I didn’t see a single awkward or unrealistic pose. I especially liked some of his slightly more dynamic panels where there are overhead view of standing characters with perfect foreshortening.

The battle scenes are full of energy and movement and there is no shortage of bloody violence and death as Homs ensures that Sonja lives up to the ‘Savage’ part of this series’ name.

The plot sees Sonja out in the titular Frozen Wastes, leading a band of warriors against raiders. These are no ordinary raiders however, and Sonja winds up being captured and taken to a subterranean world of cannibalistic Yeti-men where imprisoned warriors are used as slaves and even food. Ruling over this twisted realm is a creepy queen with the ability to heal wounds in an instant; an ability shared by her warriors who have some sort of link to the Queen. Essentially, their injuries are mirrored on her own body and and both the Queen and her injured men can instantly recover from stab or slash wounds.

This seemingly immortal queen, as the only female, has been the sole source of reproduction for her people over the ages but she desires more children – stronger children – to ensure the survival of her tribe. What she seeks is some sort of freaky lesbian sexy time with Sonja to achieve this. I don’t quite know how the biology of all this is supposed to go down but Sonja is having none of it, despite being overpowered and even put on a leash as the Queen’s (sex) pet.

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Sonja manages to escape, reinvigorate the enslaved men, and start killing shit as she refuses to bend the knee and accept her imprisonment in this sinister underground world. Heads roll and the blood flows as the She-Devil with a Sword hacks her way through yeti men, hulking berserkers and massive beasts.

If I have one critcism of Queen of the Frozen Wastes, it’s that the ending is quite abrupt and a slightly unsatisfying conclusion to the enjoyable action that comes before it. It could have done with a couple more pages perhaps. Obviously, as a four issue series, it’s also quite short with a good chunk of this TPB taken up with all of the alternate covers and some sketchbook pages from Cho and Homs at the back.

That said, for what it is, Savage Red Sonja: Queen of the Frozen Wastes is an enjoyable, untaxing read that you can really kick back with. The plot is average but the visuals, the defiant character of Sonja and those glorious Cho covers make this a miniseries worth picking up.

I do have to give a shout-out to the first few pages though, where Sonja is in the wastes and saying that she hates the cold, yet is out in a blizzard in her bikini with a token fur hood/cloak as her only defence from the elements!

Coronavirus: getting its power from the media

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Yes, it’s two posts in a row about the hot topic of the moment: the Coronavirus. Now, I’m as sick of hearing about this damn virus as you probably are, but what I have to say in this post felt like a topic in its own right so here it is.

I want to discuss whether we – as a species – are overreacting to the Coronavirus and granting it too much power over us.

But a little disclaimer before I get into this shit. I’m in no way attempting to downplay the Coronavirus or pretend that I am some sort of expert with an inside line. Here, on this blog, I have previously spoken about the importance of accepting that you know nothing and that you must always prepare to be wrong about something, and I continue to subscribe to these philosophies. I’m no scientist or medical expert and I accept that I could be totally wrong with my regards to the Coronavirus.

In defence of the seriousness of the situation:

  • The virus is highly contagious and spreads ridiculously easily
  • There is no vaccine available
  • The elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are at a real risk

It’s this last one that’s particularly important because it’s easy to bang on about how we will endure the Coronavirus as we would the flu, but there is an entire section of our community that doesn’t feel as invincible and with good reason. A standard flu could be fatal for them but at least there is a vaccine available. What I’m saying is that it’s a bit ignorant and selfish to only think about ourselves and those in our age bracket.

That said, I remain sceptical.

While I agree that the Coronavirus is a serious threat, I DO believe that we are overreacting. Shutting everything down. Panic-buying toilet roll and hand gel. Crippling the economy. The panic-buying is down to people being idiots. The rest? Well, the media and the governments of the world need to take a good look at themselves.

What SHOULD be happening is an appeal for calm. We need to try and carry on as usual and not live in fear of somebody in the same room sneezing. Unfortunately, the media LOVE this shit and the more dramatic and apocalyptic they can make the Corona sound, the better. As I said, we need to get our shit together and not give the virus so much power over our thoughts and day-to-day life. Understandably, it’s pretty difficult when the news channels be like

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The first thing to realise is that our media is incredibly misleading. Only last night, for example, I heard the BBC news refer to the Coronavirus as a “disease”. That’s factually incorrect for starters.

Next, they like to highlight the seriousness of the situation by repeating how many hundreds (or thousands depending on where you live) are infected. The thing is, these figures are the total confirmed cases that have been recorded since the beginning of the outbreak. What the media doesn’t do is subtract all of the people who have recovered. Instead, they keep on stacking the cases up, implying that all of these people are still infected and recovering (which is false).

Thirdly, every new Coronavirus-related death is hammered home for maximum effect but you have to look beyond the headlines. Every person that has died here in the UK for example, has been of an older age and already suffering with underlying health conditions. Yet, millions of fit and healthy younger people are absolutely bricking themselves. I don’t have any actual figures but I’m reasonably confident that as many, if not more people, have succumbed to the regular flu since 2020 kicked off.

The news media is doing the world no favours by broadcasting Coronavirus updates on a 24/7 loop. What they are doing is fueling the fire and encouraging panic, forcing governments to react accordingly and cause MORE panic by taking drastic measures such as quarantining entire cities or cancelling public gatherings. When measures such as these are taken, it MUST be an end-of-the-world scenario, surely? I saw the following post on a forum that I’m a member of and I have to say that it hits the nail squarely on its head:

“I’m not worried about coronavirus.

It’s the various governments, medias and general population’s panicking in pants-wetting fear reaction to coronavirus that I find worrisome.

Overreaction to new threats is part of the human condition but I’m feeling increasingly uncomfortable about our current media and leaders apparently being unable to resist the drama and seeming hellbent on putting the shits up themselves and everybody else when they should be calming things down.”

I have wondered: what if this virus had never been given a label? What if it wasn’t being given the top billing on every news bulletin? Would we all just be walking around complaining about how much flu was going around? I think we might. After all, doctor’s waiting rooms were heaving last December with flu-riddled patients so, given how inaccurate and suspicious China’s reporting of the Coronavirus has been, how do we know that it wasn’t already doing the rounds before the official announcement of the outbreak? Obviously, that’s just a loose theory, and I’m sure that I can be proved incorrect, but hopefully you get my point.

The news media has transformed the Coronavirus into a boogeyman and given it an incredible amount of power over us that I’m not happy about.

Social media has also played its part by allowing everybody to post images of empty supermarket shelves and whip the populance into a panic-buying frenzy that is entirely unnecessary. The hysteria on the likes of Facebook and Twitter is possibly more destructive than the traditional news because millions are constantly viewing their feeds and gradually being convinced that they too must surely need to start stockpiling supplies. After all, if everybody else is doing it, it has to be the right thing to do…right? FOMO and all that. Baaa.

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There are some nuggets of positivity that have come out of social media’s Coronavirus coverage however:

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That’s the sort of can-do attitude that we need! None of this miserable doom-mongering.

My outlook on the Coronavirus is simple: there’s only so much you can do. I’m going to be cautious, keep washing my hands (as advised) and do what I can to keep my germs to myself but, at the end of the day, if it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. Worrying and losing your shit isn’t going to help.

I firmly believe that we need to remain calm and relieve the pressure on our society and economy by NOT giving the Coronavirus so much power. Above all, don’t be a stupid fool and fill your spare room with bog roll. If everybody carries on as usual, and shops as normal, then there won’t BE shortages. All of these shortages are entirely artificial and caused by people stockpiling for no reason. Automated re-ordering systems in shops aren’t prepared for such a sudden influx of sales and will take time to catch up. That doesn’t mean that X item is no longer available. It just means that businesses and systems run on projected sales that are based on past shopping trends. These systems are being overloaded by monstrous sales volumes that they haven’t anticipated. Likewise, the  manufacturing sector wasn’t ready for such a rapid upturn in demand.

Don’t be a sheep.
Don’t stockpile like a greedy, panicky douche.
Don’t assume that this is the end of the world.
And, just maybe, don’t keep checking the news every hour.

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Coronavirus: Exposing our world’s greatest illusion

Yes, even Unfiltered Opinion isn’t immune to the dreaded Coronavirus. I’m not infected here at UO Towers but the situation has provided me with some food for thought.

Heading off on a brief (but wholly relevant) tangent, one of my favourite series’ of books ever written are Robert E. Howard’s Conan adventures. It is in one of these entirely unapologetic and totally non-PC stories (Beyond the Black River, 1935) that I came across a fantastic quote that has stayed with me ever since:

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

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We put an incredible amount of faith in our civilisation, society and – above all – the controlled order of things. We believe ourselves to be intelligent, highly sophisticated and far above the primitive nature of our caveman ancestors. Furthermore, we assume that everything around us is here to stay forever – as solid and dependable as Conan’s muscles.

The reality is that we, as creatures, haven’t actually changed all that much, and major epidemics such as the Coronavirus expose our civilised world for what it really is – an illusion. It’s an extremely thin and terribly fragile illusion too, as illustrated by how quickly we fall back on our primal survival instincts at the first signs of trouble, discarding all of our learned concepts of order and rationality. There could even be an argument to say that we are heading backwards when it comes to our behaviour and mental strength.

If you doubt me then may I point you to the utterly bonkers panic buying of toilet roll in Australia.

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What we see here is wholly irrational activity that makes zero logical sense. First of all, there have been no indicators to suggest that toilet roll – of all things – is going to be in short supply during a Coronavirus epidemic yet a lot of Australians are shitting themselves (pun totally intended) at the prospect of being caught short (another 100% planned pun) and not having access to a doomsday bunker’s worth of bog roll.

Secondly, why in hell is toilet roll being bought out above FOOD?

Thirdly, Australians are acting like sheep and buying crazy amounts of toilet paper because they see other people building these entirely unnecessary stockpiles and believe that there MUST be a reason for it. They don’t want to be left behind. In short, people are imitating their neighbours and fellow shoppers without asking themselves if it’s really necessary. Even the OG toilet paper panic-buyers had no evidence or inside information to justify what they were doing so what hope is there for those who are switching off their brains and following the herd? Blind, instinctive reaction is trumping calm rationale.

Point four: we have become entirely dependant on our lifestyle of convenience and consumerism, where everything is produced and provided for us in pretty packages. It’s a far cry from a time when we humans had to go out into the wild and gather resources for ourselves. Whatever we want, it’s there on a store shelf, available 24/7 – no effort, risk or skill required. We are totally domesticated and painfully vulnerable, depending on this structured way of life like a baby clings to a big, reassuring, milk-dispensing breast.

As Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney says…

“We’re not used to shortages and scarcity, we’re used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So the rush to get toilet paper is just this sheep mentality to maintain that status.”

My fifth and final point?

Police were even called to a dispute on Wednesday, with reports saying a knife was pulled out in an argument over toilet roll between panic buying shoppers.

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To summarise the Australian toilet roll madness:

  • Irrational behaviour
  • Fear taking control
  • Utterly fucked priorities
  • Herd mentality
  • Instincts > rational thinking
  • Violence and aggression

Now, does ANY of the above belong in a civilised, ordered society where we claim to be “better” than our ancient ancestors? Does any of this gel with us supposedly being more intelligent and resilient than ever before?

This is where I was going to sign off, point having being made. However, in the time that I left this post unfinished, I have been on the frontlines of this madness. Yes, the bog roll panic-buying has come here to the UK – again, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It has crossed over from the land down under without requiring a human-to-human transmission, so you could say that this braindead stupidity is far more infectious that the Coronavirus itself.

I work in the wholesale business and it was with great dismay, on Saturday, that I noticed customers wheeling big trollies of toilet roll to the tills. It wasn’t their fault, mind. Their shops had been cleaned out by rampant panic-buying crazies and so they had to come in and re-stock.

Worse still, we were cleaned out of painkillers and some medicines because, clearly, these are also hot commodities that any respectable British citizen needs in their Coronavirus-ready fallout shelter. Antiseptic liquids were another casaulty but these were being purchased by enterprising profiteers. One such businessman laughed and happily told me that people are buying anything with the word “antiseptic” printed on the bottle so he was stocking up to cash in on the situation.

The cracks in our concept of civilisation are growing a little wider it would seem. I can picture the borderer from Beyond the Black River nodding sagely as I type this…