Thursday, 23 October 2008

Don’t mention the R—; it’s just a BAGEL

Clearly there’s no escaping the economic downturn. Most people are now convinced we’re facing a slowdown, and first the Today programme (Radio4), then the mighty GB himself, used the R-word yesterday. These people ought to be more careful with their terminology.

Today, in fact, specifically said “… the R-word …”, which caught my ear over the cornflakes (well, porridge, actually). There must be a West Wing fan in the Today editorial team; for all WW fans know that it’s not an *R—, it’s just a ‘bagel’.

Shame on me for not knowing off the top of my head which particular episode this is from (I DO have all of them on DVD), but through the wonder of t’internet I can tell you that it’s from Season 5, Episode 1, first screened in 2003.

The context is that Pres. Bartlett (Democrat) has had to hand over the presidency to the Speaker of the House, Walken (Republican), because Bartlett’s daughter Zoey has been kidnapped. Meanwhile there’re various other crises rumbling along, not least the impending Bagel.

Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford) can’t bear the idea of mentioning the R-word, and quite right too! I’m sure there’s a saying (but can’t bring it to mind) about naming a thing bringing it into existence. If there isn’t, there should be – especially in the field of economics.

I do accept that current circumstances are, to say the least, exceptional. Nevertheless, the more the media harp on about the Bagel, the worse it is likely to get.

Funny thing is, I barely remember the Bagel last time around, even though it landed me and Mr Ms_well in negative equity territory. Back then, I’d just finished a stint writing for an electronics magazine (that industry was going great guns); and I'd moved to work for one of the UK’s largest trade unions.

The economy was certainly high on our list of priority issues, but the focus was much more on the loss of manufacturing jobs in the midlands and the north. So despite the (moderate) fall in house prices in the South East, the City carried on regardless and as I recall there was less hype about the Bagel, and more concern about the ‘balance of trade’ deficit. On top of that, with high inflation, those of us who didn’t lose our jobs were getting decent pay rises – my salary increased by £15k in the five years after I graduated in 1988 (though, admittedly part of that was linked to rising up the career ladder).

Things certainly don’t seem the same this time around. For one thing, I now listen to Today – guaranteed hype-on-toast Monday to Friday – and for another, as a freelance, I’m potentially more likely to feel the effects of organisational purse-string-tightening.

No sign of that yet, so far, for me (but I’m keeping everything crossed), but just this morning I bumped into a neighbour who’s a freelance PR, off on her way to an interview for a secretarial job at our local school. She says she’s sick of working at home, but I can’t help wondering whether the downturn is making her (and others) worry unduly about their employment prospects.

C’mon folks, I agree that we’re living in uncertain times (no change there then?), but life WILL go on. The only thing that IS certain, is that panic and media hype won’t help anyone. Sorry to quote Michael Winner, but “Calm down, dears” is the only advice I’m currently willing to take.


* R—, of course, stands for recession. Nice to be able to use an em-rule once in a while!

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