Hobble Christmas and we starve

Mid-October and the Christmas displays are already going up, in the hope that there will be Christmas. Shops are relying on it: the Christmas trade can be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

Retail has taken a hammering this year because of the lockdown and several large High Street names have folded – we are not seeing the full effect until the economy wakes up and we see who is not there. Some are nominally hanging on to see if their normality returns, but they are insolvent, and will go to the wall unless the turn-round is dramatic. Christmas sales are a key to this. It is not looking good.

Retail is not linear, but many of its expenses are. A shop will be paying the same rent, the same rates and the same wages and National Insurance throughout the year; insurance, hire charges and licences will be annual sums reckoned evenly across the year; however income is not the same. In most businesses there is a Christmas rush, and that earns is the money which pays for those expenses.

It is not considered odd that hotels and B&Bs will pay the same rent and rates in the winter as in the summer but do all their trade in the summer: they make a loss in the winter by paying out with no income because they will make it all up in the deluge of custom in the summer. This may seem less apparent in the retail trade, but that is how the economics works here too: the shop can tick by over the whole year, feeling the market, building goodwill, training the staff, but waiting for the Christmas rush.

Many a business makes no net profit all through the year month by month until the nights grow short: the profit is to be made in the run-up to Christmas, which pays for all the year’s expenses. I have seen shopkeepers, ready to take a new shop on, begging to get it done in October because if they do not get the Christmas trade, they will pull out rather than sit on a loss-maker.

It is not just obvious businesses which have a Christmas rush either – it reaches all sorts of enterprises; even builders’ merchants and pharmacies see it. Consequently all the suppliers feel the rush, and all the professions which serve those businesses. They all rely on it.

Now though, the streets are quiet and the shops have fewer customers. They are in fear as Christmas approaches and customers are still being driven away, and there is no assurance that they will have their one profitable time of the year. To cancel the Commercial Christmas or even to hobble it will delete the year’s profit from the ledger, for the majority of businesses and their employees.

Essentially, it is necessary either to end the lockdown or face mass shutdown. It will not be pretty.

Second wave of bad rainbows threatened

A second wave of children’s badly drawn rainbows is threatening to sweep over the United Kingdom this Autumn. With GPs refusing to see anyone who seems even slightly ill, frantic mothers with sick children are resorting to ever-more desperate measures, and the fear is that this will include children’s art on posters on in the front-room window in the hope of attracting sympathy, as well as more rational approaches such as voodoo or sending off for things sold on Russian websites. To meet the need is a growing number of black-market doctors offering services on the quiet outside the NHS, fearful though they are of being struck off for treating ill patients.

Seven months on from the lockdown, GP surgeries remain barred and patients are told to go off and recover or die at home. One patient with a technicolour yawn rainbow in her parlour window told me “My sister had a swelling and was told through a crack in the door that it was probably wind, so we were very surprised when it burst and she died in prolonged agony from peritonitis, but she did recognise that it was all necessary to protect people from a nasty cough. Our Aunt said the same when she found her rash was actually cancer: a doctor could have spotted it at once, but he would have been endangering himself if he had stopped social distancing on the golf course, so she was doing her bit for us all. All those in the NHS are, after all, angels, like the ones we read about in Sunday School, in 2 Samuel 24.” She later added “Hang on, you’re not from the BBC like you said; who are you? Hey, come back…”

Teachers welcoming bairns back to school this month have found a new conspiracy theory doing the rounds in classes: parents have reportedly been telling their children that there used to be an organisation called the ‘National Health Service’ which provided doctors who would see sick people. Children are not as silly as we think and know it is just a fairy-tale.

See also

Books

The patient is dying. There is one cure

The economy has tanked, in a decline far worse than even the most lurid predictions the bank of England put out about Brexit, and which I for one dismissed as ludicrous. The decline is not from Brexit though: that was followed by growth and new investment – the collapse is from the lockdown. It will continue until the whole lockdown is lifted.

Never say the decline was caused by COVID-19: it was caused by the lockdown.

There has been time to reassess, and now we, the public, understand what the epidemic is and is not and how it works, we are in a position to make our own minds up as mature adults as to what are the risks and what level they are and how real, and how therefore to react and conduct ourselves. The rules of the lockdown have lost their immediate purpose and so should go, at once and without reservation.

The rules hold on only because, it seems, the government has started down that road and would look embarrassed if they find it is all for nothing after all this pain; but to continue is to continue and worsen the pain, and leave devastation where until March there was a thriving economy.

The hope that greeted Brexit has turned to a despair at that promise thrown away.

Everything is dying around us. The streets are no longer as deathly silent as in the spring, and shops do get customers, some at least, but the power houses of the economy have fallen into a coma. These are the offices, the mass gathering places, the venues, theatres and cinemas, and the bars which receive the theatre-goers in the evening.

Those businesses which are open are still hampered by regulations and the fear of being shut down or sued, which leads to new, self-imposed rules that in turn drive their customers away. The most visible is the mask, which is pointless on the face of a healthy man or woman, which is to say almost everyone, yet is strict law on everyone. Distancing is enforced as if the virus were magic, and even though the PM reduced the required distance to 3 feet, universally we are commended to keep 2 metres apart – which works in practice only by being ignored.

The statistics show there is no longer an epidemic, and the medical profession are now set up to deal with cases thy do receive, which they were not before. The statistics also seem to show that the epidemic was declining even before the lockdown measures were put in place – and so would have continued down whatever happened. We were told that the point of the lockdown was a temporary relief, to buy time so that the peak would hit in the summer, when hospitals would be ready and not filled with winter ‘flu cases – well the summer has come and gone and if there is really a risk of a new peak, it will be in the winter; just what we were told had to be avoided.

In the meantime life remains on hold, and businesses are holding their breath, or dying. We were told it would be a short pause to be ready, and on that basis the economy might have held out, ready for a swift bounce-back. After this time though we find several major businesses and employers have folded, and others are on the brink. There are no jobs to go back to from which the economy could be revived.

The only thing that could make it worse is an increase in taxes at the end of it. Recovery can only come from a cut in taxes.

Even away from the economic crisis, the social crisis deepens. Those who believe all the scares still are cowering and may never recover. The easily led are led into dependency, and the weak-minded, for whom we should all have a special care, are driven frantic. Mental health is fragile. Others have been using the situation for months to play at being the village bully, and don’t we all know who they are, and who their victims are.

There is only thing that could save the situation from becoming terminal: end the lockdown, all of the lockdown, immediately. If people want to take precautions, and keep avoiding the neighbours and keep working from home, let then do so: we are all adults here and can judge our own risks. The man in Whitehall knows nothing of me and my family. I do.

See also

Books

It’s an anti-social distance, actually

People used to cross the road to avoid me: now they do so as a duty. More worrying than alienation is the new, alien language the lockdown has produced which makes no sense. A shop notice demands “Keep a social distance!”: that means in normal English ‘in close conversational distance’ but in COVID-newspeak was intended to be ‘stay six feet away’. Surely that is an anti-social distance.

Accurate language is important, particularly in uncertain times. Where science is leading discussion, inaccurate or misleading words and phrases take on the borrowed cloak of that science as if they were just as much to be relied on, when in normal times they would just be taken as metaphor or forgivable sloppiness.

To be clear on the immediate example, “social distancing” is correct as describing the act of distancing yourself from others in society, which is to say outside your household, and a “social distance” is no more than the distance you actually stand from someone. It is not a measure of distance: that is deriving phrases backwards as if to write over their true meaning. Other new terms that have come in include “shielding”, which has a general meaning but has now attracted a specialist meaning in the context of lockdown (don’t ask me – I don’t know what it means) and various scientific terms which when used by those outside the specific scientific discipline lose their meaning or are misunderstood. Scientific terms are precise and accurate as terms of art – outside the context they become meaningless and even dangerous.

Hobbes took accuracy of definition to be the first principle of sensible thought and discourse. Failure in definition leads to error or even madness (that is another article). You cannot think about a subject defined by words if you do not understand the meaning of those words, just as you cannot understand the geometry of a circle if you only understand straight lines or the life-cycle of a milch-cow if your only reference is pigs.

Seeing then that Truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise Truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or els he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed. And therefore in Geometry, (which is the onely Science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind,) men begin at settling the significations of their words; which settling of significations, they call Definitions; and place them in the beginning of their reckoning.

..

So that in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: And in wrong, or no Definitions’ lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senslesse Tenets; which make those men that take their instruction from the authority of books, and not from their own meditation, to be as much below the condition of ignorant men, as men endued with true Science are above it. For between true Science, and erroneous Doctrines, Ignorance is in the middle. Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousnesse of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary.

See also

Labour: wear a mask when shopping on-line

This week’s Labour health spokesmxn, Jonathan Ashworth, expressed outrage that the Government has not gone far enough in enforcing face muzzles. The government’s half-measures are all for show, he spluttered: all the headlines are about shops and theatres, but the staff of online retailers are the forgotten working class. Shopfloor workers have protection from customers in muzzles and there must be a level playing field to protect jobs and lives, he said: customers doing their online shopping must wear facemasks at all times, because the workers behind the screens need protection from these notorious computer viruses.

Week one of the face-lockdown. The shops are emptying again satisfactorily. Now I get a chance to see what’s on the rails without elbowing dawdlers out of the way. I can’t see much though with this thing right under my eyeline.

Not everyone must wear the cloth. As I gathered after interviewing Mat Hancock, while he was trying to run away:

  • It’s to protect other people in case I have the dread disease;
  • Although I don’t have it;
  • Unless you’ve actually got the Wuhan flu, it’s as pointless as a chocolate chastity belt;
  • You don’t need to wear a muzzle if it causes you breathing problems;
  • Which is what you’d have if you get COVID-19;
  • So if you do get the smit, don’t wear a mask – better to infect the carriage than choke to death.

I wear it: I have a very dinky one which the maid made for me, which beats the designer face-muzzles I’ve seen: my, you should see the green envy. (The rivalry over masks is quite a thing to watch in the salons – all from a lacey lingerie-style, all holes and imagination, down to one that looks as if it was last worn in a trench outside Ypres.) It is taken very seriously – the fashion, at least, and I do wear it on trains. Of course I take it off when I need to make a call or to have a good cough, but I have it for a good show of concern.

I am my usual, cheery self in the shops I deign to frequent. I greet the shop assistant with my eyes, we admire each others’ muzzles, and I ask “Mmmm ngh ngh mmmnnnn!”, which never fails to elicit an appreciative “rrrrr, mngh, ghghgh mmmm.”

What next week will bring, we cannot tell. I am quite looking forward to getting the illness – better now I’d say than in the winter when I have a cold too to cope with. That COVID-19 party was a mistake though, without a nurse to hand. Another member of staff down.

See other stories