Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The most depressing day of the year

The BBC has just told me that I am writing this on the most depressing day of the year. Apparently bad weather, the end of the Christmas festivities and the return to work are all combining to make us the most miserable we have been since records began in 1349, at the height of the Black Death.

So it has nothing to do with Robert Peston and the other economic pundits, then. Though at least, if they are right, getting up and going to work will be one less thing for many of us to be unhappy about very soon.

The current phase of the Great Recession seems analogous to the Phoney War of 1939-40. Hostilities have been declared, but there is little sign of the expected cataclysm; just a few local skirmishes, like the “closed” signs going up at Woolies. The end of an era in pick ‘n’ mix, certainly, and terribly sad for their many employees, but hardly the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

We may soon see the equivalent of the Blitzkrieg of May 1940. Then again, it could turn out to be like one of those Met Office severe weather warnings which have repeatedly led me to lay in huge stocks of tinned food, bottled water and solid fuel, in preparation for what turned out to be the merest dusting of snow. Though I was apparently completely cut off by black ice throughout December, according to Britain’s worst courier company, which returned my eagerly awaited parcel to its sender because it could not cope with the treacherous conditions. At least if the recession puts them out of business it won’t be all bad.

I had been planning to add the further cheering thought that there is always someone worse off than yourself, and it could well be me. I am certainly feeling the strain as I face the combined challenges of marriage, moving house and impending fatherhood, at an age when anyone in their right mind would be winding down to a quiet retirement. But then I made the critical mistake of looking that lot up on a stress rating website and found that it was all a complete breeze compared with bereavement, divorce, serious illness or going to jail. Only marriage even makes it into the top ten of the most stressful experiences, interestingly a shade ahead of being fired.

So if I have one piece of sound advice to offer in 2009, it is this: never, ever look up anything pertaining to your mental or physical health on the internet, and in particular do not be tempted to type the words “pregnancy complications” into a search engine. You will probably never sleep again.

With interest rates plunging close to zero, this would be the perfect time to buy a new house, if only I could borrow some money. Where has it all gone? If the banks are so short of the stuff, the current trend in interest rates seems unlikely to help. As the returns offered by savings accounts tend to be pitched below base rate, we are soon going to have to pay them for the privilege of leaving our cash in their hands.

This will surely lead to a resurgence of interest in more traditional investment strategies such as stashing banknotes under the mattress or behind the clock. As an adviser for many years to Britain’s premier manufacturer of high quality biscuit assortments, I am fortunate to own a fine collection of tins which will make ideal homes for life savings, and will be setting up a new website to market this exciting opportunity just as soon as I get regulatory approval.

In the meantime I leave you on this Feast of the Epiphany with the encouraging thought that, if yesterday was the most depressing day of the year, things can only be looking up.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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