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…

My Christmas Message

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I’m often criticised for not getting into the Christmas spirit but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy Christmas; it just means that I don’t see the sense in suddenly getting all hyped up and being Mr. Positive for one month of the year. Behaving this way is – in my mind – incredibly false.

For starters, we are constantly told that Christmas is a time of forgiveness and building bridges; of charity and of reform. Do you know what I have to say to this?

Bullshit – that’s what.

Shouldn’t we behave like this all year round? We shouldn’t be selfish, negative and ignorant to the suffering of others for eleven months of the year then “make up” for it in December by imitating Ebeneezer Scrooge and initiating a total transformation. Why can’t we strive to be good, virtuous people all year round? A lot of people who only act charitable during Christmas are – I’m sorry to say – doing so because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel righteous and I’ve seen people lambasting others over the Christmas period for not following their example, before returning to their self-centred and grumbling selves come the new year.

Then there is the near-sickening level of commercialism surrounding Christmas that overshadows what this time of year is meant to be about. The marketing machine fires up months in advance and a special kind of hell arrives on earth in late November/early December: the jam-packed stores heaving with shoppers, filling their baskets and trollies with cheap, plastic crap manufactured en masse in China.

Christmas has morphed into the biggest shopping “event” of the year and businesses battle to capitalise on the season and rake in the fat profits. The irony of it is that this fierce competition between the retailers is only possible because the corporations have successfully enlisted us all in a war: the war to buy family and friends the biggest and best presents. The war to have the most decorated house or the most outrageously overblown Christmas tree. The war to lay on the most gargantuan and comprehensive spread for Christmas dinner.

All of this can go away as far as I am concerned. I want no part in it.

Christmas, for me, is about the simple things. I only get Christmas day off from my job (Boxing Day isn’t guaranteed) and so I look forward to simply having that one, isolated day off. I look forward to being with family on Christmas morning when we are all free from work. I look forward to the Christmas dinner and watching Christmas movies on the TV in the afternoon while scoffing chocolates and drinking beer.

Do I like opening presents? Sure I do, but it really is the thought that counts. I don’t care about receiving mounds of expensive gifts or the exact items that I wrote down on a list for somebody to buy. I’d much rather receive something that had some thought put into it – something that shows that the giver really knows me, listened to me throughout the year or remembered something. But even then, it isn’t all about the material items. I really don’t get my sister’s determination to spend big or ensure that she tops the previous year’s gifts, for example. It’s unnecessary and I won’t think anything less of a small, simple gift.

In short, Christmas is about togetherness. It’s about relaxing. It’s about remembering what you have as opposed to what you don’t have. It CAN be a time for change and for charity towards those less fortunate but, in that case, it needs to be a permanent change that you carry forwards into the next year and beyond. Be better ALL the time, not just when the Christmas songs and hype have you feeling merry.

In summary…

DON’T go crazy, spending thousands of pounds to “buy” smiles on faces with gifts.
DON’T get all stressed because one small, trivial detail is going to “ruin” Christmas.
DON’T buy into the commercial bullshit and be sold excessive amounts of plastic crap that you don’t need.
DON’T cave into the pressure to beat the presents of others or to outdo your efforts from last year.
DON’T adopt a temporary, false-happy personality and become Mr. Charity for the month of December only.

DO spend time with loved ones.
DO buy simple gifts with thought put into them.
DO enjoy the small pleasures i.e. time off from work, Christmas dinner, crappy Christmas TV.
DO realise what you have in your life and decide to appreciate it.
DO reflect on the year just gone and be a better you going forward.

Merry Christmas.

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.

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.

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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.

Up Next: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder

Book Talk: that old book smell

Books are an oddity in the arena of entertainment media. When it comes to music, DVDs/Blu Rays, videogames or most other things, we’d all prefer fresh, brand-new copies for our shelves. When it comes to books, however, there’s something appealing about a used, well-read edition.

There’s no need to worry about breaking it in, for instance. New books are always appreciated but I tend to bother myself with treating a hardback book like a priceless artifact. There’s that dustcover to keep from getting frayed around the edges for starters. And I have to ensure that my hands are squeaky clean to avoid dirtying the edges of the pages.

Don’t even get me started on keeping the spines of paperbacks from creasing. Before I forcibly stopped myself from being so exhaustingly anal about such trivial matters, I would feel my heart sink when I got given a paperback – that I’d borrowed out – back, only to find that the other person had clearly folded the book open at severely obtuse angles and cracked the spine in multiple places. Have some damn respect!

Away from all that though, a used book has history. In fact, it isn’t “used”, rather “loved”.

It’s a history that you can smell. There’s something deeply satisfying (and probably weird to those watching us…) about opening up an old book and inhaling deeply. Aged paper is one of those scents that has the ability to transport your mind back in time and make you feel warm and nostalgic inside.

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An old book with yellowed pages. I’d take it over a new copy any day of the week though.

For me, the smell of old books sends my mind back to when I was a kid. It reminds me of visiting the library every Saturday morning and browsing the shelves. The books in the library were already old and well-read, you see, so the smell of an old book now reminds me of those old books and that time in my life. It reminds me of the thrill of finding new books that I hadn’t yet checked out.

(yes, I was a big nerd as a child – certainly not a cool kid)

It was a simpler, care-free time of life. The tribulations of adulthood aside, it’s infinitely less satisfying to be able to outright buy as many new books as you desire, or order them from Amazon with a few clicks. Obviously, it’s the content of books that really matters, but regardless, a brand-new book has much less soul compared to a passed-around copy with crispy, yellowed pages.

Where does the smell of an old book take YOU?

Formula 1: Japanese GP 2019 Thoughts

The 2019 running of the Japanese grand prix at Suzuka wasn’t really that interesting to me, which is a shame since the circuit has hosted some truly classic races in the past, and is one of the all-time greats of circuit design. That said, the final result was an unexpected one. Due to Typhoon Hagibis, qualifying had to run on Sunday, right before the race itself. Ferrari blitzed the opposition to lock out the front row but it was the return of Finger Man as Seb Vettel blew away all challengers to snatch pole and set a new lap record of Suzuka in the process.

Ferrari’s speed advantage over Mercedes pointed to the red cars dominating the race, but clearly nobody informed Valtteri Bottas of the script. I don’t know what he had for breakfast that day but I want some of it! Driving like a man possessed, he got a mega start and bolted from the second row of the grid, around both Ferraris and into the lead of the race. He would stay there until the chequred flag, beating both Ferraris and his illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

I have nothing at all against Hamilton but when Mercedes put the two drivers onto different strategies, I thought, “here we go again…” Hamilton was to do a one-stopper while Bottas was put onto a two-stop and it was predicted that he would have to pass Lewis on-track to win the race. So it was that I expected Merc to play a crafty one and have Lewis magically appear in first place after benefitting from Mercedes controlling the outcome between their two drivers. Thankfully, I was wrong on this occasion and Valtteri was able to win the race – a win that he thoroughly earned.

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Hamilton was, in fact, not happy. He didn’t agree with the team’s tyre strategy and felt that he could have challenged for the outright win. As it turned out, he was on the radio a lot, clearly displeased with the team as he found himself stuck behind Vettel during the race’s closing stages. It was a big battle but no matter what Hamilton tried, Vettel stood firm and just about managed to hang onto his P2.

Away from the front three, Charles Leclerc had an uncharacteristically bad day at the office. He under-steered wide at the first turn and collided with Max Verstappen who was attempting to take the Ferrari on the outside of the corner. The two young chargers – billed by many as the next two protagonists of the sport – clashed and Verstappen was ultimately eliminated from the race, being forced to retire later on as the damage to his car rendered further running pointless. Leclerc continued a clumsy weekend by trying to continue with his damaged front wing dragging on the ground and sending up a shower of sparks. The damaged bodywork on his car eventually parted ways, showering a chasing Hamilton with carbon fibre, ripping the W10’s right-hand mirror off. Hamilton was lucky not to get hit by the debris; Leclerc and Ferrari were fortunate not to get penalised for causing a dangerous, avoidable incident.

The race opened with the above drama and closed with the Hamilton/Vettel battle but the middle was fairly uneventful.

Albon continued his streak of good results by coming home in fourth – some small consolation for the team after Verstappen’s earlier elimination. Elsewhere, Sainz and McLaren impressed once again by finishing fifth.

My main closing thought here: Valtteri Bottas was superb this weekend but how I wish he could be more consistent with it! He is often absolutely nowhere in the races, trundling around well off the pace of Hamilton and also – frequently – Vettel, Leclerc and even Verstappen. Then, out of the blue, he will morph into a completely different driver and annihilate the opposition (as we saw in Australia). Valtteri can mathematically still win this year’s driver’s championship but he will have to carry his Suzuka performance through to every single remaining race of the season. I never say never but all of the smart money is still on an inevitable – and deserved – sixth for Hamilton.