Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 8th May 2017

THERE was always something comforting about Woolies and its sudden loss to the high street came as a terrible shock to thousands of employees and millions of shoppers.

Is it really nine years since around 800 stores, along with 27,000 employees, were made redundant after the firm racked up debts of around £400 million?

Our Woolies always seemed busy. It was bordering on the criminal that a successful store, with a hardworking and loyal staff, should become a victim of a much larger nationwide issue, and all just a few months before Woolworths was due to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Woolies was an iconic brand. If dear old pick ‘n’ mix Woolies went what was to prevent any major business failing? It left a lot of people wondering what, if any, future was there for the high street, especially with the growth of out-of-town shopping centres and the increasing role of the Internet in our buying habits.

A former finance director is now asking if the brand name could still figure in town centres again. Tony Page said it still had some propriety and a potential role at the heart of communities.

Some 27 employees lost their jobs when our Woolies shut. One a woman with 28 years’ service, another a manager with 24. A few weeks later it became yet another shop selling to the outdoor activity market.

Nothing wrong with that. At least it was still a shop and not an empty town centre property. But our town centre has never been quite the same since Woolworths went. It was a pleasantly familiar brand where you could find most things — and a great place to get out of the rain.

TOP OF THE SLOGANS

YOU have to hand it to the Tories. They are definite leaders in the catchphrase department.

Mind you, if Theresa May and her minions would just stop quoting that “strong and stable leadership” mantra between now and 8th June, even I would promise to vote for them.

It’s extremely annoying to keep hearing it trotted out. But, at the same time, I must admit it’s becoming imprinted upon my brain. Which presumably is the intention. Millions of us, all brainwashed.

Elections are a great time for those whose job it is to conjure up memorable mantras during their brainstorming sessions. It makes me think of the inimitable PR disaster that was Perfect Curve in the TV series W1A about life at the BBC, itself an offshoot from the brilliant Twenty Twelve based on the London Olympics. That and a bit of The Thick of It all rolled into one amorphous public relations nightmare. Brand consultant Siobhan Sharpe, in her role as head of Perfect Curve, led an eternally aggravating quest for the ideal PR coup.

Forget policy. The election is about personalities and finding something memorable, yet meaningless, to keep repeating. Theresa May has taken a clear lead in that respect. Keep trotting out “strong and stable leadership” and eventually we’ll all be chanting it in our sleep. It’s a not particularly subtle way of undermining the other party leaders, the inference being they are not strong and stable.

All the best slogans, whether it’s advertising chocolate bars or politicians, pop into your head when you are not thinking. I recall some years ago listening to a speaker who kept repeating a key phrase, so much so that I left the building with it hammering in my head for the rest of the day. It’s a well-known technique apparently, and clearly one the Tories have been quick to latch on to.

Do slogans affect how we vote? Perhaps Siobhan Sharpe could tell us the answer. In no more than four catchy words, of course.

RIDICULE DOESN’T WORK

IF there’s one thing I hate about electioneering it’s the personal insults. Do they work? Well, no. I actually think they are counter-productive.

I’m even feeling sympathetic to dear old mugwump Jeremy Corbyn, even if Boris Johnson’s description of the Labour leader caught the headlines for 48 hours in a dull as ditchwater week of endless Brexit argument.

Corbyn has suffered a lot worse. Being compared to scruffy Compo off Last of the Summer Wine, for example. How he dresses is nothing to do with his qualities or lack of them as a potential Prime Minister.

And can’t they just lay off Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s Christian beliefs? Comedian David Baddiel branded the Westmorland MP “a fundamentalist Christian homophobe”. A typical sneering attack over his views about whether homosexuality is a sin.

I just wonder if Baddiel and his ilk would express such strong views towards other faiths which are less than tolerant in their views. Farron’s beliefs should be a private matter, not something over which he is to be treated with contempt. I may not necessarily share them, but the more he comes under fire for them the more I’m drawn to him.

There’s something quite unsavoury about these personal attacks. Boris’s contribution to the debate was comparatively mild compared to the nasty vitriol coming from the mouths of certain people who would no doubt claim to be among the great supporters of free speech and liberal values.

Those who claim that Farron is guilty of hypocrisy should remember the old saying about pots and kettles.

The standard of debate so far in the election process has been depressingly dreary. So lay off Jeremy and lay off Tim and stop the poisonous ridicule which is not nearly as clever as it’s smug propagators might think. There’s four more weeks of this, so could our politicians and observers at least try some grown up stuff for a change before we all switch off.

NO PLACE FOR LOO-SERS

COME on, readers. Knees together. Legs crossed. Teeth gritted for this item.

I guess we have all been caught short at some time in our lives, out and about and unable to find a public loo.

You could pop into the nearest pub. But, quite rightly, they expect you to buy a drink if you intend to use their facilities. The problem with that is by the time you’ve left the pub and got a quarter of a mile down the street the beer is working its way down — and you need to go again.

Public toilets are being wiped out across swathes of Britain amid council budget cuts. At least 1,782 have closed in the past 10 years. Councils have no legal obligation to provide toilets for the public and often shut them if they become too expensive to maintain.

The Local Government Association says councils are doing their best to keep toilets open, but cuts have meant there is less to spend on services and the next few years will be an even greater challenge.

Perhaps the answer is the sort of local enterprise that a group of businessmen came up with in Keswick, where the Bell Close conveniences have been given a major facelift and become an artistic focus. They recognised that, in a tourist town, loos are not a fortunate extra, they are an essential. So they went to the council and said they would take over.

You’ll need 40p to use the toilets. But, if in great need, you’d willingly hand over 40 quid, let alone 40p. The loos are looked after by a specialist company and the once bare outer walls are now decorated with spectacular artwork, an advert for local talent.

Loos aren’t normally a recommended visitor attraction, but it you are in town go and have a look. It’s all very grand and a million miles away from the once rather seedy reputation that public toilets use to have. Plus, you don’t have to drink a counter-productive pint every time you feel the need to go.

PIE EYED

THE story of Penrith Football Club’s pies goes a step further, following the Herald’s revelation a couple of weeks ago about how a visiting team, disappointed none were available when they visited Frenchfield, had a supply delivered by the Cumbrian club for the return fixture.

Now I hear the tale of a visiting fan who, also disappointed at the absence of pies, complained to Penrith chairman Ian White, who promptly set off for the company’s shop in town to buy some pies and ensure the visitor did not leave hungry.

Would Mr. Abramovic abandon his private box at Chelsea to nip along to Harrods andpurchase some pies for a hungry visiting supporter? You might not see a Hazard or a Costa at Penrith’s games, but hey, they are top of the league for customer care.