Some lockdown restrictions are back in parts of Northern England, and as I read through the news article about it, I realised something. I realised how the word “Household” quickly replaced words like “Family” and “Friends”.
If you convince us we are nothing but households, it’s easy to convince us you can put restrictions on us. After all, we are not people, persons, and definitely not families. Just households. Your mom is no longer your mom, but someone in a different household. It’s easier to dictate to households what they can and cannot do, than it is to dictate to parents and their children or boyfriend and girlfriend who want to see each other. But if you reduce us to households and get rid of our relationships, it is easy to convince us you can allow or disallow our interaction.
What is reducing us to households if not an attempt to weaken ties with our family and friends so we don’t rebel against these restrictions? Just turn us into brainless TV consuming, not questioning anything obedient members of society, where family is just some word you hear in old movies. We have Zoom, we can tell Alexa to turn on our TV, and our Amazon parcel is only 6 stops away. Who needs distractions like a family, friends, and the sense of belonging?
In the mid 1990’s, four out of a thousand American children had nut allergy. So, schools started banning nuts and everything related to nuts including foods produced alongside nuts. Some schools with less pupils might have never even had anyone allergic to nuts, but still banned them. This meant parents were instructed not to let their kids bring these foods to school. Not that school simply stopped serving them at lunch. I think it’s a little overreaction. Preventing all kids from having nuts just in case one (hypothetical) student may be allergic. This is what we have done to our economy, in my opinion. A very small percentage of cases resulted in death (almost exclusively of people in the high risk category) and we stopped the entire country and have taken baby steps to restart it and surprise, surprise, you will never be allowed to bring your metaphorical nuts to school ever again.
In the proceeding paragraphs I will attempt to argue that we should be allowed to keep our peanuts. That is our jobs, our businesses, our education, our future plans and dreams and human interaction, and we can’t or shouldn’t be forced to give them up in case someone somewhere might get a reaction. I won’t argue that lives don’t matter. Of course, they do. I will simply express my opinion why saving the economy should have been our goal given the COVID19 death rate looks a lot like the 1990’s nut allergy.
The fall of High Street
I went into my local shopping centre the other day. I bumped into a friend of mine who is a cleaner there. He is from Algeria. His nametag reads Mark, but this is just a familiar name he goes by at work. That’s also the name I know him by. We followed the arrows towards the escalator where we parted ways. During our short conversation he pinched his orange uniform with Intu Centres logo on it and disregarded it as irrelevant.
‘This uniform, we wear just for show. The company, Intu, it’s finished, gone!’, he said and explained that the Intu staff are no longer employed by Intu. He added that if nobody saves them in the next few months, the centres will get closed down. ‘I’m going back to my country, there is nothing for me here’ he said just before we headed off in separate directions.
Later that day I checked what exactly he had meant. Turned out the Intu Centres had gone into administration. The one in Watford, previously known as and still referred to as The Harlequin by the locals, had just had an enormous upgrade. They had spent a couple of years expanding, renovating and adding new retailers to their newly built space. This investment cost them a whooping £180mln and resulted in 1.4ml square ft of retail and leisure space and this was meant to be the next chapter into an exciting future of The Harlequin and Watford.
Cineworld, Hollywood Bowl and Debenhams all cut their ribbons less than 2 years ago. Debenhams spread across three huge floors and hosted numerous brands selling anything from beauty products, fashion to home. They recently announced that some of their branches would not be reopening and would get closed down permanently. Their new-born baby, the Watford branch didn’t make the cut. It will not reopen. Now, Debenhams had been in trouble before lockdown, but it looks to me like it sealed their fate. It is said the closure of their branches will cost thousands of jobs. This would include their staff, various brands which had their booths and kiosks on their shop floor, possibly warehouse staff and anyone working for other companies that do any kind of work with Debenhams. Currier companies for example might not need as many delivery drivers now that Debenhams and many other retailers closed their doors permanently.
And now Intu Watford is stuck with an empty unit that won’t be easy to fill. There already are M&S and Primark in the centre and both are spread across three and two floors, respectively. John Lewis have just announced that a number of their stores will not reopen, including the one in Watford. The store has been part of Watford town centre for thirty years and as the locals know it today, it’s spread across, I believe four enormous floors selling everything from birthday cards to furniture and big screen televisions. But John Lewis Watford is no more. The Harlequin welcomed their first customers in the early 1990’s. Their recent investment and extension were meant to rebrand the town to a new shopping destination for people in surrounding area. This dream made other businesses see Watford in a new light and it resulted in numerous cafes and restaurants introducing themselves to the people of Watford. Will the closure of Debenhams and John Lewis mean the end of Intu Watford and will it destroy other businesses who have come here searching for the big success?
With over a hundred stores, the centre provides work for thousands of people and now whether they realize it or not, they are all facing an uncertain future. I used to work at one of these stores. We had a team of less than twenty people. There are of course bigger stores with a lot more employees Boots or Sports Direct. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had close to a hundred staff members. The closure of the Harlequin could, in my opinion indirectly cause loss of jobs in other unrelated areas of economy. Take bus drivers for example. No shopping centre means less people coming to Watford, both as customers and employees. Some hard decisions will have to be made in not only in bus companies but many others. And this is just one of the shopping centres in the Intu empire.
Take Rob for example. Rob has been working for TNT curriers for fifteen years. He complains about his job sometimes, but he likes it. He likes driving his orange truck delivering pallets upon pallets of cartons filled with stock to retail shops. He likes interacting with the stockroom staff who greet him with a smile every morning. He knows every one of them by name. You never see Rob wear trousers, always shorts. “Cause when it rains, the trousers get all wet and if you wear shorts you can just dry your legs and you’re good to go.” It kind of makes sense. “Even in Winter.”. He’d never let you struggle with your delivery all by yourself. He’d always give you a hand. This job pays good enough money for him and his family of two children live comfortably and never worry about the future. Until now. Now Rob’s future at TNT is uncertain. Sure, if it comes to it, they might transfer him to another department, maybe have him do home deliveries instead, but this just means others, like Rob will lose their jobs. Or maybe it will be more cost effective in the long run to let Rob go and keep those who are on a lower wage instead? I sure hope Rob’s fate is not sealed.
Chances are, Intu Centres are not going to be saved. Who would want to invest in shopping centres right now when the government can order them to close whenever they think the risk of keeping them open is too great? Nobody will want to invest. The government can enforce a local lockdown anywhere and anytime like they have done with Leicester. What is going to happen instead, is these shops are going to close, jobs are going to be lost and the whole retail space will be abandoned, and its value is going to go down dramatically. Only then will it be bought and transformed into something different. Blocks of flats or modern apartments is my guess. Maybe Amazon warehouse? Who knows? All other retailers around will give in too and the High Street will no longer be where you go to buy clothes and trainers.
Andy is a store manager. He is in his late twenties and he has spent over ten years working his way up the retail ladder. He’s had his eyes set on becoming an area manager and he has been working hard to get there and it seemed like it would happen for him soon. The shop he has spent all his career at is facing closure because it is located inside Intu Watford. Andy picked up this shop when it was in pieces and turned it into a fun and challenging workplace for all staff. He has made sacrifices not many of us would even dream of. He has been recognized as a manager of the year and he’s always kept his eyes on the ball. Now, if retail goes extinct, what can someone, who’s spent over ten years building a career in it, do? Sure, we learn various useful skills in any job, and we can take them with us to the next one, but something tells me the job market will not look the same after coronavirus. Many businesses will fail to make profit as they adapt to the new rules and measures. Many jobs will become a thing of the past as machines become more reliable, productive and can’t get sick.
Economy is such a dirty word, baby!
Economy has become a dirty word. People who want to save it, don’t mean to sacrifice innocent lives. They understand the importance of healthy population being able to carry the economy on their shoulders, and they understand the importance of protecting the vulnerable people from the virus. Others think we shouldn’t care about the economy. When they say economy, they think about the greed of capitalism, the sins of corporations and their executives. But the economy is made of us and our jobs. And most people think their job is waiting for them on the other side but as I have shown above, the future is uncertain for all of us. Hopefully, I have made a compelling case why we should be allowed to keep our nuts (our jobs, business and livelihoods) and not have them taken away to protect hypothetical people with allergies.
The government has imposed the lockdown and has kept us on house arrest for nearly four months as if this pandemic were the next Spanish Flu, which it is not. If it were, I would be writing a completely different article. The death rate is extremely low (even though the numbers have been boosted by false death certificates and wild guesses of the medical staff), and as harsh as it may sound, the vast majority of deaths was people who died because their time had come. The elderly who survived last year’s flu season fell ill in the last few months and their weak immune system couldn’t fight it this time. Others had other serious life-threatening conditions that would have killed them in the next few months. So, the lockdown hasn’t saved lives. It has postponed some deaths while making living all about staying alive. It has taken away the fun and joy of living life to the fullest and making the most of the time we have left, which is what living should be all about, Most of us think we have many years left in our life’s calendar. Unlimited number of days, birthdays, holidays and countless hours with our loved ones. Some people don’t have that luxury and the house arrest might have kept them alive but deprived them of the very reason for being alive. I am not trying to suggest we should let the vulnerable die. I am saying we cannot cheat death and we cannot keep everyone safe forever. What I am saying is that it is more than likely the people who died in the last few months, would have died if they had caught another virus. We can all try to keep peanuts away from our vulnerable loved ones, but we can’t keep them from peanuts. At least not all the time and not indefinitely. And we definitely can’t forbid everyone from opening a bag of M&Ms just because someone may or may not have an allergic reaction. In the end we are all responsible for ourselves and no government intervention is going to make us care about hypothetical people who may or may not get sick and may or may not die from it, when our lives and lives of our immediate family are at stake. This also means providing food, protection and a sense of security.
Flu directly kills thousands if not millions of people worldwide while COVID19 seems to be just finishing the job of the underlying conditions sick people have and still managed to kill less people than seasonal Influenza. By all means, let’s try to keep our vulnerable loved ones alive. Let’s provide them with help and support they need to stay alive and to live their final years the way they see fit. The rest of us should have never been kept locked inside our homes. We should have been allowed to work and make a living while the vulnerable are protected if they so wish. If you have a loved one who is high risk then by all means, do whatever you believe is necessary to keep them healthy but in the end we are wired to care about our immediate family first and makes sure they are healthy and live with dignity. We can’t be forced to give up our nuts, the only way to feed our loved ones, because someone, somewhere might have an allergic reaction.
Economy is important. It is important for you and for me. For the healthy and the sick. If you have a job, you can buy medicine for your child. If you buy a pair of jeans, someone else will put food on their table. It is a never-ending cycle. We are all in this together. We all support each other with our purchases, but we are all individually responsible for ourselves. We can’t expect the world to stop to accommodate us. We can’t expect the system to slow down so we can catch up. We can’t expect the whole town to get shut down because grandad is sick. We need to keep going but it seems like this option is being taken away from us.
Do you agree? Do you think I am wrong to think we should have thought about the economy? Do you think High Street will survive this massive blow? Are you going to be affected by any of this? What is your plan looking ahead? Let me know