December 20th: A Grim Getaway
I am on the 06.52am train from Broadstairs to London’s St Pancras Station, en route to Lincolnshire for a business meeting. Despite there being five days remaining until Christmas Day, the train is already discernibly quieter than on a normal Thursday. The schools have started to break up, and for many people today will be their last day at work. Not so for me, as I’ll be working right up until Christmas Eve. Only then will I understand how this most challenging of retail seasons has played out.
Tomorrow, December 21st, has already been dubbed ‘Frantic Friday’. It’s predicted that over 2.8 million additional car journeys will be made as people head home or to visit relatives for the Christmas break. The traffic today will only be marginally lighter. In total, over eleven million extra car journeys will be made this week. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Greece or Belgium making a single road trip. It’s at times like these that I am grateful that I don’t have to run a car, although upheavals on the train network are on the cards. On Christmas Eve I am expecting the trains to be empty, especially at 05.50am when I board. Who else would be mad enough to travel at that hour?
Meanwhile The Sun, a newspaper not known for understatement, claims that ‘torrential rain and gale force winds will cause travel chaos for millions‘, citing thirty-five flood warnings that have been issued for the south and west of the country by the Environment Agency. These conditions are not unusual for the time of year; it seems that we quite often experience extreme weather events prior to Christmas Day, before things settle down to be dull and unremarkable on the occasion itself. A White Christmas is not on the cards. Anyone from beyond our shores should immediately dismiss the idea that we all go traipsing off to church on Christmas morning, leaving footprints in the sparkling snow whilst kiddies throw snowballs at one another. This simply does not happen …. ever. The fictional scene makes a nice Christmas card though.
Assuming anyone gets where they want to go over the next two days, they will then have to face ‘Super Saturday’, the obvious successor to ‘Frantic Friday’. On the first day of the weekend, ten million people are expected to hit the shops, spending £1.4 billion, whilst another five million people will spend £270 million. The majority will be looking for a bargain and they won’t have to try very hard. Boxing Day sales are now as much of a dinosaur as the January sales, with almost every retailer marking goods down well before Christmas Day. It’s a gaping hole that retailers have dug themselves into and not a nice way to shop. In my late teens and early twenties I used to love going into Bath on Christmas Eve and completing my Christmas shopping. If I hung around long enough I occasionally got to grab a bargain in the stores where the staff were just a bit trigger happy with the pricing gun. Now one can do one’s entire shop at markdown, but any satisfaction in saving a few pennies is fleeting when one knows it will be even cheaper post Christmas. This is not how I like to shop, and why I buy most of my Christmas gifts throughout the year, when I find something that’s ‘just right’.
Should you be travelling over the next few days, I wish you a safe and speedy journey. When you arrive at your destination I hope you receive a warm (and dry) welcome. And if you still have shopping to do, leave early, buy once and buy well. TFG.