27th November 2014
We have been bombarded by a message over the last few days from a variety of news outlets that the British public are going to spend over £5 billion on Black Friday. This all ties in nicely with the story of an improving economy. However it's a strange message. It is presented as our desire to adopt all things American but its importance has to be explained to us. Apparently it all kicked off last year when a few people got excited over some cheap TVs in ASDA, hardly a tradition. The reality is that it is just another ploy in the standoff between customers and retailers over when to start the Christmas spending, or the balance between losing out or waiting for the January sales. In a similar vein there was the news that there will be a shortage of delivery drivers for this Christmas.
So will it work? At one level yes. With the right number of bargains boosted by the surplus stock due to unseasonable weather they will probably meet their targets. But is this a tradition in the making and more importantly for the retailers will it make us freer with our spending? For this the jury is out. Firstly there is no cultural basis for it. The UK does not celebrate Thanksgiving nor is the day after a holiday, it is just another working Friday. Secondly despite all the talk of a recovery the economy is still in austerity mode. This is compounded by borrowing becoming harder through new limits on mortgages and payday lenders. Such a narrative is supported by the autumn fashion stock left on the shelves although others optimistically explain it (see above links) by saying we are saving up for a splurge at Christmas. There is a little more money in the system following on from the housing boom but the question is will the spending of those with it make up for those without. The probability is that the takings will be average for this year but unlikely to be evenly spread such that we will also see couple of minor retail player go to the wall whilst the big player consolidate their hold.
23rd November 2014
And why I have stopped waiting for the next Pandemic
As a society we have been conditioned for the arrival of a pandemic for many years. For me it started with the BBC's drama series 'Survivors' in the 1970s. Followed by the frequent investigations into the Asian flu pandemic of the early 20th century that have given the impression that we are now long overdue for another. The media sensing our morbid fascination with the subject gave the theoretical risks of SARS and Avian Flu full coverage, which in hindsight may not have merited the headlines.
Ebola on the other hand seemed to be the real thing. A highly infectious disease with only a 30% survival rate. So when the unfolding tragedy in West Africa became apparent I like many was tempted to think that chaos could be only a flight away. Yet it hasn't happened and in the mean time we the public have learnt that, among other things, the simple precaution of a barrier can prevent infection or personal hygiene such as washing hand regularly can significantly reduce it. Clearly this is easily achieved with the modern health systems of the developed world but neighbouring countries such as Nigeria have easily been able to contain it. This is all down to science and without we would be ignorant, continuing with personal contact leading to consequences similar to those of past bubonic plagues. A disease that we now know is treated by antibiotics.
Not wanting to trivialise what is happening in West Africa but as the story of this Ebola outbreak has rolled out I have come to realise that the fear of a pandemic is just that a fear with no real substance. We are the descendants of the survivors of previous plagues which will have given some natural immunity and as we have had some form of contact with much of the world so Ebola may well be the last virus to trouble us. Famous last word perhaps and mutations or man-made viruses may give rise to concern but science proves it has answers and as long as we are not complacent it should protect us.
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