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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[Image Source]
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.

Don’t buy a Dishwasher

dishwasher-4I know, right? An extremely random topic to concoct a post on (even for this blog) but hear me out. This might well be a public service announcement of sorts.

Or I’m chatting a load of bollocks and you will continue to rely on your dishwasher.

If there’s one kitchen-based chore that everybody dreads having to do and will avoid at all costs, it’s emptying the dishwasher. That’s the situation in our house at least. And it got me thinking: why do we put ourselves through it? Why do we knowingly and willingly load up these appliances with our dirty dishes, leave it to do its thing and then huff and puff our way into the kitchen late in the evening to FINALLY empty the damn thing lest the cupboards run dry of essentials such as plates and glasses?

For many women, it’s to avoid the sink and the effect on their hands that repeated washing-up sessions can have over a period of time. For men such as myself, I think it’s laziness. We don’t want to wash up. Have you seen the average single male’s abode? But women can wear rubber gloves to (mostly) protect their hands. As for us blokes? We need to stop being so damn lazy and pitch in – just get the job done. We aren’t beneath cleaning up after a meal.

The REAL reason that a dishwasher is so appealing is the convenience. There’s no standing at the sink, scrubbing pans or plates. You just load it up throughout the day, kick back while it does all of the cleaning for you and then empty it later. I get that; I really do. But the thing about convenience is that it rarely benefits you in the long term; it’s all about the instant gratification and relief at avoiding work. Convenience food for example is tasty as fuck but it’s bad for you in regular doses and gets you out of prepping a proper meal.

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It’s not that bad – honest.

But convenience is what we seem to be all about these days. Dishwashers used to be a luxury appliance but now they are a standard feature of a kitchen. Heaven forbid it breaks down though (more on that in a moment) and you have to remember how to wash up in the sink. For some people, this is a genuine disaster. My father is an appliance engineer and has dealt with customers who are complaining that the dishes are piling up by the sink because the dishwasher is broken and they can’t cope. You feel like giving these people a good smack in the face and instructing them to just deal with it. Surely they won’t die from having to temporarily revert to ye olden days of using a scrubbing brush or sponge in the sink?

But back to convenience. When you are merrily filling the dishwasher up with the remains of your breakfast, lunch and dinner (‘Tea’ to us Brits), do you know what you are actually doing? You are delaying the inevitable and just postponing the work – not eradicating it altogether. It reminds me of a quote from Terminator 3:

“You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.”

So you’ve been avoiding the washing-up all day but there’s no escape from having to empty an absolutely loaded dishwasher.

It’s far faster to simply wash up after each meal. There’s less to clean if you do it that way and it takes a matter of minutes to get it done.

Plus you are saving money. A dishwasher is more than just an initial outlay of cash, remember. You have to buy tablets, rinse aid and salt. It becomes yet another object of constant maintenance in your home – another ongoing cost that never ends. And when it breaks down (which it will), it will cost more money to repair or – worst case scenario – replace altogether. Old-school dishwashers didn’t suffer so much in this respect as they were built to last but the current stuff is cheaply-engineered crap designed to satisfy rampant consumerism that demands everything NOW at bargain basement prices. You will get what you pay for and there’s no way your dishwasher will last fifteen or twenty years like your parents’ might have done.

This cost factor is probably the biggest issue here because you don’t really need a dishwasher do you? But those tablets and bottles of rinse aid all add up over time. A 60-pack of Finish tablets is currently £9.00 on the ASDA UK website for example. Let’s say that you put the washer on once a day (it could even be more) and that’s six packs that you will need to buy over the course of a year, totalling £54.00. Over five years, that’s £270.00. £540.00 over a decade. Obviously, prices go up and down and there are different brands available blah, blah, blah but that’s a lot of money to avoid washing up by hand and we haven’t even factored in rinse aid, the initial purchase price, repair costs or even how many dishwasher units you would have had to buy during that ten-year span. And yes, you could also point out that our lives are loaded with such compounding costs and you would be correct. But we really should look to eliminate as many as possible if we want more money in our wallets to do better and more enjoyable things with.

My point is this: for the sake of washing up a few plates, glasses and mugs after each meal, you can save yourself a load of money and hassle. In my eyes, it’s a no-brainer but maybe I’ve just over-thought this. But the next time you are moaning about emptying the dishwasher or arguing over who should do it, just remember that convenience is a double-edged sword.

Comic Book Talk: Ghost Rider #1-#27 (1990-)

GR-1The 90’s gets a bad rap when it comes to comic books. The 60’s and 70’s established many of the characters and ongoing books that readers are familiar with while the 80’s featured countless classic story arcs and famous runs on big name comics. Fast forward to the modern day and the likes of Marvel and DC are enjoying more exposure than ever and, as befits the age we live in, the comics themselves enjoy slick presentation and the individual titles are far more integrated into the main ‘universe'(s) with frequent crossovers and major ‘events’.

By contrast, the 90’s is often cited as the decade of forgettable storytelling, uninspiring ideas and a lack of anything “big”. Thing is though, while many of the mainline books suffered a period of stagnation in the 1990’s, it simply isn’t true to claim that the decade as a whole is worth forgetting about because there were some fantastic comics. Case in point, the 1990 Ghost Rider reboot which is one of my favourite runs of any comic to date.

The powers of the Ghost Rider are picked up by new lead character, Dan Ketch, and he struggles to cope with the Rider’s furious need for vengeance as well as his own personal life which begins to spin out of control once he begins moonlighting as GR. This is a different Ghost Rider to the original Johnny Blaze incarnation and so this run had the freedom to go its own way while posing numerous questions and mysteries regarding the Ghost Rider.

I’m only going to talk about the first 27 issues here in this post because from there on, the Sons of Midnight crossover project began and I haven’t read any further since I need to track down some more comics to fill in the gaps in my collection. Those 27 issues however are pure dynamite. This is a dark book that doesn’t shy away from violence, blood and innocent death. A core of recurring, brand-new villains are also established for Ghost Rider to contend with and while they don’t exactly have the most dynamic of personalities between them, the psychotic brutality of their actions and the joy they extract from killing, makes them fascinating adverseries for GR to face off against.

Blackout is a crazed, sharp-toothed killer that enjoys ripping people’s throats out, Deathwatch is an evil businessman that cracks necks and appears to draw energy from the death of his victims and Zodiac is a sick serial killer that continually manages to escape the vengeful wrath of Ghost Rider. This trio of villains are collectively behind a wave of violent murders and disappearances in the Forest Hills area of Queens, New York. Ghost Rider might be a powerhouse of a character with high immunity to damage but he struggles to permanently put these sickos down. Deathwatch for example hides behind the persona of a respectable businessman and pulls the strings from the shadows. Blackout on the other hand deduces GR’s identity and makes things personal, striking out at those close to Dan Ketch. He even attacks the hospital and tears the throat out of Ketch’s comatose sister! You end up really despising these villains and rooting for Ghost Rider as he takes on a sort-of anti-hero role, beating the shit out of bad guys and not being constrained by the morality codes that the likes of Spiderman and the Avengers abide by. As I said before, this is a dark book.

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During these 27 issues, Ghost Rider also encounters Dr. Strange, teams up with The Punisher to take on Flag Smasher and battles the Brood alongside the X-Men. Mephisto makes an appearance, Ghost Rider has his first battle with Scarecrow and Johnny Blaze himself even shows up but the motive for his return isn’t what you might expect.

The thing that really makes this run of Ghost Rider so special is the creative team behind it. After reading some truly woeful Spiderman arcs in the late 90’s from Howard Mackie, I didn’t ever expect to praise the same guy for his writing but here, it is superb. The human side of Dan Ketch and the effect that his actions as Ghost Rider have on the supporting cast is as integral to the ongoing plot as are the villains that refuse to give up and die and Mackie does a great job of striking a balance between them. Better yet is the artwork which is absolutely stunning in that raw, detailed style that only comics from the 80’s and early 90’s could deliver before presentation as a whole moved to another level and computer work sucked some of the soul and purity from the pages.

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Javier Saltares kicks things off before being replaced by regular artist, Mark Texeira (also known as simply ‘TEX’). Both men really bring the book to life with grim, brooding artwork but Texeira in particular is on another level. Ron Wagner steps in from time-to-time too and honestly, I rate him almost as highly as Texeira. There really is no weak link in the art department for these opening 27 issues.

Overall, I cannot recommend this volume of Ghost Rider enough. I don’t disagree that the 90’s served up some real duds in the comic book arena but in my experience, it is the B-Tier characters and books that give the decade some appeal. In particular, I love the dark characters and horror themes that Marvel saw fit to push out in the early 90’s; the 1990 reboot of Ghost Rider being a front-runner (or should that be ‘rider’?). It remains to be seen whether the rest of the run manages to uphold the same quality and thrilling reading but I have high hopes.