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.

Materialism Update: too many trainers and killer Converse?!?

It’s been some time since I made my post on the affliction of materialism and my desire to move away from it; to cut down on what I own and buy. If you’re expecting some sort of big results on my part then you might be disappointed however. On a positive note, I don’t feel as if I have accrued any more stuff. I’ve sold a hell of a lot of things since that post and managed to offset any new purchases by getting rid of other things. The “one in, one out” philosophy at work.

To give myself a bit more credit, I do feel that I own a little less stuff but because of the way my things are stored, the situation doesn’t look any different visually. I’m going to keep chipping away at this but for today, I’m going to be talking about one specific area of senseless materialism: trainers. Or sneakers if you are reading this in the US of A.

A needlessly excessive collection of footwear is a criticism usually levelled at women but men aren’t immune to this form of fashion consumerism. I have six pairs of trainers which might not seem like a huge deal to some of you but, as far as I am concerned, it’s five pairs too many.

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(excuse the stains on the fronts of the grey Crosshatches – I’d just been scrubbing some brake dust stains from the material and they were still damp)

I didn’t use to be this way at all. One pair of trainers was enough for me. But then I discovered that I enjoyed collecting trainers that caught my eye, specifically bright blue ones as you can see. I didn’t pay full price for any of these, mind. We have a clothes outlet here in the UK called TK Maxx which sells designer brands at a large discount on account of the items being last season’s trends or discontinued lines that other retailers have gotten shot of. There are usually only one or two examples of most things and the stock is often completely different each time you visit which is both an upside and a downside.

I bought most of the trainers in the above picture from TK Maxx at 50% or higher discount versus the RRP which felt like a steal. Of course, I soon realised that it wasn’t really a saving when I didn’t need to spend any money on trainers in the first place. It was reality check time. I asked myself, “what the fuck are you doing?” and placed a ban on buying any new trainers – a ban I have happily stuck to.

Worse still, I was terrified to wear any of these trainers in case they got dirty or damaged – completely contradicting their purpose. I would wear them carefully then feverishly clean them up as soon as I was home, trying to preserve their new-ness. The exception are the battered grey Crosshatches in the bottom-right of the picture. I have replaced the insoles numerous times and even superglued them back together in order to get them to last as long as possible. I didn’t intend for them to ever reach this state but I have to wear something when I leave the house!

I decided that I was set for many years with this stock of trainers. As well as banning myself from buying any more, I have vowed to run them ALL in and make them go the distance, just like the grey Crosshatches (which I’m sure are on death’s door at this point). Time to kill off the obsessive perfectionism while I’m at it! Footwear is meant to be worn, not stored carefully and treated like antique collectables.

The next pair in line to become my “daily” trainers and get properly used will be the Converse All-Stars but I’ve always been wary of wearing these bastards because of the absolutely deadly lack of grip provided by the soles. These have been worn considerably more than any of my flashy blue kicks but even so, they never seem to wear in properly. I frequently find myself sliding on smooth surfaces or slipping on shiny store floors.

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Beware the soles of doooooooom

And as if to prove their vindictive intentions, I’ve slipped over in public for real while wearing these fucking things. It was only a slightly damp, tarmac path on a gentle slope but walking down said path felt like walking on ice. Needless to say, I stacked it and was lucky not to damage my back. Also lucky that not many people saw it!

So it was that I spent my precious time wisely and sat in front of the computer, asking Google, “why do I have no grip when wearing Converse?”. I didn’t expect a proper answer but the internet came up trumps and revealed the reason that Converse All-Stars are a one-way ticket to public humiliation and potential injury. Apparently, the soles are not 100% rubber – they come with a felt coating that doesn’t ever completely disappear and it’s this coating that causes a lack of grip. By reducing the rubber content in the soles, Converse can be imported as “slippers” and avoid a good chunk of import tax! So, to sum up: big name fashion item (that isn’t exactly cheap to buy anyway) is sold by a big name company that exploits a loophole in order to save a few pennies. I’ll put that one under the ‘Why am I not surprised?’ category in my mental filing system.