When I was summarily sacked from my post of editor of The Freethinker magazine at the beginning of the year the shock of my dismissal after 24 years forced me to make some drastic lifestyle changes, including getting to grips with a compulsive online buying disorder.

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Folk who know me well will tell you that I’m a walking repository for all manner of gadgets, ranging from portable power banks to self-defense flashlights and electronic cigarette lighters with USB charging ports.

My bulging leather satchel also has a multi-purpose Swiss Army knife, a telescopic magnet for fishing keys out of storm-water drains and a flash drive containing information that may be of use to the police or medics should I be ever be found unconscious or dead in a gutter or in a dumpster.

A visit to Casa del Duke will also reveal a great many other items I’ve felt compelled to buy from AliExpress—a site I call the poor person’s Amazon. It offers a cornucopia of marvelous high-tech gizmos at knock-down prices which are dispatched without delivery fees.

One of my purchases was a light-bulb that doubled as a Bluetooth speaker that I put in the bathroom so I could shave and shower to my favorite tunes.

I say “was” because the thing exploded a few weeks ago right in the middle of Chris Rea’s “The Road to Hell“. I was using a cut-throat razor at the time, and slashed open my left cheek. Simultaneously all the lights blew in the the apartment.

I shan’t be replacing it any time soon.

Photo credit: Barry Duke

While the musical light bulb proved a disaster, a Bluetooth speaker in the form of a framed painting by brilliant Mediterranean artist Antonyo Marest is an absolute joy, made better by that fact that the Spanish company that combines art with technology—Energy Sistem—is based 20 minutes from my home on the Spanish Costa Blanca. I revel in the fact that it’s one of my very few possessions which haven’t come all the way from China.

The effect of Covid

Although I’d always been an online scavenger for all things technological, the compulsion escalated dramatically during the Covid lock-down period. After a few whiskies late at night I’d abandon Netflix and go diving into AliExpress and Amazon, spending cash on all manner of useless tchotchkes.

This would explain why I now possess a plastic contraption that turns boiled eggs into cubes, and a pair of scissors with a spatula attached, designed to cut pizzas and lift the slices simultaneously.

I don’t like pizzas, and pizzas sure as hell don’t like me. Years ago I discovered they give me ferocious acid reflux, so what was I thinking when I bought it?

After admitting to myself that a combination of lock-down fever and too much alcohol was fueling my purchasing addiction and wrecking my health, I promised myself to break my bad buying and drinking habits. All I needed was a push.

That push came in the form of my sacking. A quick calculation on the back of an envelope—remember those?—showed that frivolous, drunken purchases had to stop with immediate effect, and I started ridding my apartment of all the junk I’d spent thousands on over the years.

Along with the pizza scissors and the boiled egg cuber, the stuff I tossed in a box now destined for a local charity shop includes:

A yellow plastic banana slicer

• A microwave omelette-maker that never worked

• A wooden peanut butter and jam spreader with color-coded silicon ends

• A strawberry stem remover

• A self-heating ice cream scoop

• An electronic fork designed to a twirl pasta

• A corn kernel stripper

• An electronic wine bottle opener

• An electric popcorn-maker that was so loud that a concerned neighbor thought a fight with semi-automatic weapons had broken out in my apartment.

Also to go was a coffee machine that used expensive, environmentally-hostile pods. I replaced that with a cheap Spanish knock-off of a Bialetti stove-top moka pot.

In the end, what I chose to retain were items dating back decades. One of my favorite knives was purchased in London’s famous Selfridges in 1973. When I saw a fella cutting a heavy leather shoe in half during a demonstration in the Oxford Street department store I just knew I had to have one, and it’s as sharp now as the day I bought it.

I have also kept a boiled egg slicer, a vintage metal garlic press dating back to the 1950s and a hand-held electric blender.

One mistake was discarding a lightweight plastic potato masher that came over with me when I relocated from the UK to Spain. It was pretty damned useless unless you boiled potatoes to absolute buggery, and I decided to replace it with a far more robust metal one, not realizing that, in my part of Spain, the locals do a gazillion things with potatoes—except mash them!

Photo credit: Barry Duke

Not a single store specializing in cookware had one. Then, when I was in a hardware store getting a key duplicated, I was elated to find a beast of a masher in a section set aside for hammers and saws and the like.

The staff were mystified as to what it was, and simply parked it in the tool section. The señorita at the checkout actually asked me what I intended doing with it. It’s 14 inches long and looks like a cattle-branding iron, and boy, does this baby ever do the job!

Yet despite the fact that most tasks in the kitchen can be done with a few quality pots and pans and knives, the kitchen gadget market is worth hundreds of millions, with people buying items that are not only useless space invaders, but are often an absolute pain in the butt to keep clean.

Sadly, my sacking is destined to leave me practically destitute next year, which is why I decided to swallow my pride and launch a fundraiser in an effort to keep my head above water and not be rendered homeless. I also have a presence on Buy Me A Coffee.

It’s a move that annoys and embarrasses the hell out of me, but the upside is that I’m now well on my way to recovery from my compulsive buying disorder, have drastically cut down on my drinking, have begun exercising again and have lost a stone in weight.

Best of all: I will never, ever have to return to the foundering UK for useless business meetings—or anything else for that matter.

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Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....