The great toilet roll debate – where do you stand?

This is absolutely brilliant and will divide opinion across the blogosphere I’m sure…

Merry Christmas everyone

Well it’s been a busy old year and as it’s Christmas Eve, it’s time to wind down and forget about everything to do with work and concentrate on family matters.

I love Christmas and it’s a very special time of the year for me, so I hope all the readers of my blog out there have an amazing time and all your festive wishes come true.

Make mine Marvel

It was a chance conversation on Twitter that started it. Who was the best artist who ever drew Silver Surfer? Jack Kirby or John Buscema? Of course it’s a popular discussion among comic book aficionados and even had a scene dedicated to it in the major Hollywood movie Crimson Tide.

It was when I tweeted this divisive question that West Yorkshire’s secret millionaire came clean: that he, like I, was a comic book obsessive.

Carl Hopkins has many guises: advertising agency guru, prolific Apprentice tweeter, secret millionaire, coffee with Klooger, wannabe Dragon and comic book collector and connoisseur.

Now I like to think I’m no slouch in this world – as a young boy, I avidly collected Marvel comics and I have a huge collection stashed away and a not too shabby knowledge of the Marvel universe. So we agreed to spend an hour or so talking comics – not business or creative industry, but Marvel (with a little DC thrown in, but not much). It was a wonderful indulgence and quite exceptional to be engrossed in conversation about nothing other that superhero characters, artwork, writing, paper, printing techniques and the perils of being a collector.

Carl began collecting whilst at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds (we worked out he was in the year below me I think) whilst studying Graphic Design on the same course. For fifteen years Carl built an impressive collection of modern and classic titles until he realised his obsessive collecting was perhaps a little bonkers – classic sign: buying three copies of a single comic, two for the archive, bagged and sealed, and one to read.

Ever since I was a young lad, I loved collecting too but for some strange reason I was never that hooked on the pristine comic book collection. I always liked the fact that they’d been read and actively swapped comics I’d read for ones I hadn’t. I’ve never been the ultimate completist – but Carl is pretty much the closest I’ve ever met to one.

For Carl it was family reasons that the comic book collecting came to an end (and maybe a realisation it had become more than just a hobby) and now, he has behind a sliding door, a highly enviable collection of books spanning 30 years or more. Anyone who collects comics will be green with envy with the pristine set up: no damp, every copy lovingly wrapped, characters stored in sections- ‘you want Daredevil? Here he is, just here – Frank Miller…?’

Daredevil and Spider Man loomed large – and I can’t disagree with that. These were my two favourite characters from the 1970’s. Matt Murdoch and Peter Parker were the ultimate heroes for a young teenager who didn’t feel exceptional in any way and liked the thought of being an outsider without actually being one.

We agreed to disagree on the best artists for the characters and the names of these artists came readily as you’d expect from a couple of art school boys. For the record, I will always love Ditko and Romita for Spidey and although I confess Miller’s Daredevil is off the scale in terms of coolness, the early Daredevil yellow costume gives me goosebumps.

On this snowy afternoon, I brought along some of these new fangled graphic novels, on shiny paper, showing some of out best-loved old characters reinvented: Thor, Captain America and the marvellous Avengers. Carl caressed the books like an alcoholic who’s not touched a drop for twenty years. I left them for him to take a look at and we swapped books like old collectors do.

For people like Carl and myself, I think comics inhabit a space that hasn’t been entirely filled by the modern world. Movies like Inception are amazing and the effects are incredible, we talk about them for weeks on end. But. And there is a but. Comics created worlds that were so inventive and exciting and weren’t limited by the special effects on the screen – it’s all about the mind and how you create it for yourself.

Inevitably though, comics are bound to be all about escapism they created in the relatively austere times we grew up in the 50/60/70s. But the characters endure and when they are effectively translated to the big screen, the results can be eye-popping (Iron Man is the best adaptation to date) and be as genuinely creative as anything ‘brand new’.

So, the comics were packed up, lest Carl’s young son might find the bright colours too attractive and we finished our coffee and both wondered if it was wise to re-acquaint ourselves with the insistent world of comic collecting. Although I’ve found the instant fix of all the titles wrapped up in a graphic novel just right for me and the my life, I think that Carl would see that as cheating in some way.

Having said all of that, it seems to me in this world the relentless searching, completist collecting and sublime discovery of the comic is almost as good as the read itself.

Do it yourself

DIY isn’t one of my strongpoints. It never has been really. With a father and brother both brilliant with their hands there just wasn’t much handiwork skills left in the gene pool for me.

But I do try, and there are times when I feel a vague sense of satisfaction or even smugness when a shelf stays up or a hugely complex wardrobe doesn’t fall to bits. I have to admit I do get myself into a bit of a state when DIY looms: mood descends and I have to mentally prepare.

Over the years, I have developed tried and tested strategies to help me deal with the traumatic experience that is DIY or more accurately, Ikea flat pack furniture:

1. Send wife and children out for a few hours to make sure long-lasting damage isn’t done to the marriage or childhood trauma is caused.

2. Ensure power drill is fully charged and all kit is within easy reach to guard against garage trips in freezing cold.

3. Close all windows to protect neighbours from highly creative, industrial strength foul language.

4. Soothing music in the background to aid concentration.

5. Open windows and turn off central heating otherwise you’ll sweat like a racehorse.

What I’ve found in recent years is that it’s not actually as bad as you think it’s going to be. In truth, the Ikea instructions are actually pretty good and my top tip is to get everything out of the bags first and check them against the instructions. What I don’t like though is if you have a spare screw or a dowel (little wood thingy) – am I meant to have one left over? Is it if I lose one or have I missed some vital instruction?

It’s a minefield, building a bed made from aluminium tubing or a bookcase from MDF, I can tell you.

And the instructions! I have learnt to follow them faithfully and dutifully, even if it goes against my (rather poor I admit) DIY instincts. On top of this, the Ikea instructions contain no words…but they have evolved over time into this highly efficient, pictogram-led, super manual. The trick here is not to look too far ahead, take one page at a time. Carefully study the positioning of the holes and reference these to the real thing – they don’t always correspond 100%, but press on regardless, checking everything as you go.

I cannot honestly say I feel a sense of pride at the end of a DIY flat pack construction exercise, more a sense of relief that the thing has been successfully put together and hopefulness it’ll stand the rigours of use without collapsing or the ridicule of family members. I recall speaking with a friend years ago who actually enjoyed DIY and felt a real sense of achievement and I have to say that he might have been speaking Venusian, so alien is the concept of screwdrivers and satisfaction.

Either way, I write this post in the smug afterglow of a moderately successful erection – only a broken bone and three completely new swearwords invented, which I count as a success.

Movember

I’ve never grown a proper tache before.

Sure, I toyed with silly facial hair in the nineties – who didn’t experiment with a goatee or extended sideburns?

But Movember has given me the opportunity to grow some real man hair under the excellent cover of raising money for men’s charities.

What do you think so far?

Swearing

Ok, I won’t lie to you, I do like to swear.

Perhaps more often than I should.

I blame it on my  formative years in employment. Working in a small design studio above a chemist in the suburbs of Leeds, I honed my potty mouth alongside finished artists who took pride not only in their artwork but their foul-languaged eloquence.

But I am where I am.

And on top of this, I do find swearing funny in the right situation. Childish I realise.

Modern Toss uses swear words to maximum effect – their pocket swearer app was downloaded and gleefully shared with friends and irresponsibly, with my son (although he is 19). Still, I should know better.

And yet I find myself chuckling away in a schoolboyish fashion to the periodic table of swearing published by Modern Toss and brought to my attention by Sabotage Times.

It’s pure filth and pure fucking genius. Enjoy.

Tomatoes from the garden

It seems like a long time ago when we first started planting the veg patch.

Overall, we reckon it’s been a big success – most of the vegetables that we planted did pretty well, with the notable exception of the french beans  succumbed to some kind of insect attack. Either way, they were done for.

The tomatoes were a success – they just grew for fun and during the hotter days of the summer demanded to be kept well watered whilst they grew and dominated the greenhouse. Getting to the back-end of the season now and the tomatoes have all been picked and those that need ripening are sitting happily with a couple of brown bananas, becoming scarlet in a hessian bag.

So we found ourselves with a vibrant bowlful of yellow and red tomatoes – three of four different varieties – all getting close to the point where one needs to do something with them. Inspired by River Cottage chef Gil midweek, I decided to make some home-made ketchup.

First stage is roasting off the tomatoes with plenty of herbs (thyme, oregano, bay), garlic and chilli. Then reduce it down in the pan after adding sugar and sherry vinegar, Pinch of salt and paprika at the end to add some interest.

It should keep for a good few weeks in the fridge, although if the first tastings are anything to go by, it won’t last that long!