My Annual Trip to Plagiarism…..

Same time, slightly different subject , same author (plagiarised) , same reason for plagiarism (I couldn’t write it, apart from the content she is far more literate, articulate and coherent than I could ever be ) and as with the last time completely ‘left field’.

This time last year I pasted and copied an article by our Daughter, and I make no apology for doing the same again this year . The subject is different but the context is no less relevant and poignant.

I hope she writes one at the same time next year or my annual plagiarisation, will cease to be that….Annual. She will have her father to answer to, if she doesn’t. As if that would make any difference.

Today would have been London Pride with the now standard parade and celebrations of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) community. Covid 19, if nothing else, doesn’t discriminate (well it does a bit) and this event has now been cancelled restricted to online celebrations. I rarely post however, like last year, would like to use this day to share my reflections on Pride.

Last year I wrote about my personal experiences and why Pride is still important beyond the, perhaps more light hearted, parade in central London. This year I will be briefer and wanted to touch on the importance of being an ally and what this actually means. I also think this is relevant and intersects with the current spotlight on Black Life Matters (BLM) and racism. I have attached a recent video article (5 mins) from the Guardian on White Fragility and how this forms a barrier to effectively tackling racism.

As a white English person it is my duty and responsibility to listen to this and learn. I may be a Guardian reading social worker (without owning a pair of Birkenstock’s I will add) but that doesn’t mean I’m blemish free of any unconscious prejudice and bias. I’m human after all and it would be worrying if I said I was free of any prejudice. What is important is I dig deep, acknowledge these, own it and then work to tackle them.

To be a true ally it means, that as the person in the position of ‘societal privilege’ (in my case as a person of mainly white British ethnicity and cultural background) the responsibility is on me to not be defensive as the majority and to use that very privilege to break down all embedded racist structures and, ultimately, to remove the privilege I hold to make way for true equality. To be an ally it is not good enough just to say ‘I’m not racist/homophobic’, to display meaningless images on social media as acts of solidarity; to pretend that you don’t see colour or sexuality; or to pretend it doesn’t exist because you haven’t experienced it (it’s likely you won’t when you are in a privileged group).

To be an ally means actively challenging any form of racism/homophobia as you witness it or hear others experiencing it, it means not colluding and ignoring it because it protects your privileged status or because it’s too uncomfortable to challenge, it means asking your BME or LGBTQ friends/family/colleagues about their experiences and what you can do to support them, it means using your privilege to dismantle your privilege, it means having the guts to stand up for others even if it doesn’t always benefit you. If you cant do these things then it is your right – but you are certainly no ally and are part of the problem. I would also ask you to question yourself if you only stand up for one section of people or disadvantaged group and not others why; tackling inequality is not a pick and mix opting only for the one which makes you less uncomfortable maybe.

If you want to be a true ally whether this is against racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or any other form of prejudice against a disadvantaged or disempowered group of people then take ACTION. ACTION NOT WORDS. Words are meaningless; actions have a purpose and enact change.

Happy Pride Inside 2020 – on being an ally not lip service and the fragility of the privileged.

Today would have been London Pride with the now standard parade and celebrations of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) community. Covid 19, if nothing else, doesn’t discriminate (well it does a bit) and this event has now been cancelled restricted to online celebrations. I rarely post however, like last year, would like to use this day to share my reflections on Pride.

Last year I wrote about my personal experiences and why Pride is still important beyond the, perhaps more light hearted, parade in central London. This year I will be briefer and wanted to touch on the importance of being an ally and what this actually means. I also think this is relevant and intersects with the current spotlight on Black Life Matters (BLM) and racism. I have attached a recent video article (5 mins) from the Guardian on White Fragility and how this forms a barrier to effectively tackling racism.

As a white English person it is my duty and responsibility to listen to this and learn. I may be a Guardian reading social worker (without owning a pair of Birkenstock’s I will add) but that doesn’t mean I’m blemish free of any unconscious prejudice and bias. I’m human after all and it would be worrying if I said I was free of any prejudice. What is important is I dig deep, acknowledge these, own it and then work to tackle them.

To be a true ally it means, that as the person in the position of ‘societal privilege’ (in my case as a person of mainly white British ethnicity and cultural background) the responsibility is on me to not be defensive as the majority and to use that very privilege to break down all embedded racist structures and, ultimately, to remove the privilege I hold to make way for true equality. To be an ally it is not good enough just to say ‘I’m not racist/homophobic’, to display meaningless images on social media as acts of solidarity; to pretend that you don’t see colour or sexuality; or to pretend it doesn’t exist because you haven’t experienced it (it’s likely you won’t when you are in a privileged group).

To be an ally means actively challenging any form of racism/homophobia as you witness it or hear others experiencing it, it means not colluding and ignoring it because it protects your privileged status or because it’s too uncomfortable to challenge, it means asking your BME or LGBTQ friends/family/colleagues about their experiences and what you can do to support them, it means using your privilege to dismantle your privilege, it means having the guts to stand up for others even if it doesn’t always benefit you. If you cant do these things then it is your right – but you are certainly no ally and are part of the problem. I would also ask you to question yourself if you only stand up for one section of people or disadvantaged group and not others why; tackling inequality is not a pick and mix opting only for the one which makes you less uncomfortable maybe.

If you want to be a true ally whether this is against racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or any other form of prejudice against a disadvantaged or disempowered group of people then take ACTION. ACTION NOT WORDS. Words are meaningless; actions have a purpose and enact change.

Please listen to this video if you want to be a part of change and challenge – this video refers to racism specifically but you can replace the terminology with LGBTQ and it would have the same relevance. I would welcome or love any comments but please only those that are constructive and feel they are committed to being true allies across the board. If any of this makes you feel uncomfortable or defensive, reflect on why.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2020/jun/26/how-white-fragility-obstructs-the-fight-against-racism-video-explainer

I, me that is, do have a small issue with the Guardian Video , in that it primarily refers to the race issue being about black and white. And if it only were that simple or Black and white . It is far more reaching and infinitely more challenging in its complexity. However, I think our Daughter illustrates this on a number of occasions where she points to the need to highlight any disadvantaged group and not pick and mix.

Private Eye June 2020
Private Eye June 2020

The above 2 cartoons , taken from recent copy of Private Eye , I think highlight 2 key issues . The one on the left , that of there are actions and actual actions. The one on the right , all disadvantaged groups. This are my additions and I hope in no way detract from what my Daughter has written. If only I were that brave .

The Resilience of the Humble Toy Balloon….

Lord and Lady Latex, are titles that have not been bequeathed by Political benefactors, or an obsequious senior Civil Servant but by a friend who has also spent much of their working life within the same industry, and felt that for most of the time he had known Julia and I, we were flogging the odd latex balloon or two. The emphasis being on latex , which is also relevant to the context of this post.

I need to indulge a little and talk briefly about my working past as it will , hopefully, help to illustrate what I am going to say.

Travel back a long way, to a time when Mylar (foil) balloons did not exist , before Balloon Decorating started , pre huge colour ranges, and multiple sizes, to a time when the humble Toy Balloon was considered thus… Just a Toy. I was brought up with them. I was surrounded by them , not literally as I rarely saw one in my youth,almost certainly never in the house, but metaphorically. My parents lived and died Latex Balloons. Sounds quite odd and dark, but it is a lot simpler than that. They were involved in the manufacturing and selling of ‘Toy Balloons’. They was wat put bread on plate , wood in fire and roof over ‘ead…as Dickens may have said but didn’t, unless he had spent a lot of time in Yorkshire and didn’t tell anyone.

Even before working in the business I was often taken to trade fairs (oh yes that was a proper holiday). I participated in the Nuremberg Toy Fair before I left school. What I am trying to say is that I have experienced many an economic cycle and a myriad of unfortunate events that would have otherwise destroyed the market for lesser product.

From the miners strike in the early seventies, the oil crisis mid seventies, and rampant inflation(edging to 26%)recession in the early eighties, recession in the nineties, to the banking crisis and finally our present covid conditions, nothing has dampened the demand for the humble latex balloon. During the Oil crisis in the mid seventies in the UK , there was a three day working week. I can very clearly remember at the years first trade show everyone doubling their orders. During massive inflation , having to increase our prices by over 20% being told by customers they wanted a bigger increase(not really anything to do with the demand for balloons , a rather nuanced commercial input. However, the customer was not concerned that it would stop the consumer buying). The vicious nasty little bug that cowers all before it cannot dampen the enthusiasm for the The Toy Balloon. I would go as far as to say it has only increased it. During this crisis, it would not be out of order to add it to the list(at least in the UK) of toilet rolls, pasta, bicycles, and puppies . Once again it defies all expectations.

In The early Nineties this crept back up to 15%…

Now , I must wave a red flag to any Lockdown Entrepreneurs who are thinking …aah hah There’s a few bob to be made here ….the market is not short of supply . There are plenty of manufacturers and the market is very aggressive. By dint of the product’s durability, it has already gone the distance of attracting entrepreneurs . So back off!

The latex balloon is no longer just a Toy. It is a product with many homes, backgrounds to corporate events , decorating major sporting occasions , weddings, key celebrations, lifestyle enhancer…..the list goes on. Take a peek on Instagram and Pinterest to see how balloons are used now. Consequently, especially in the UK you would rarely find Latex balloons on sale in a Toy Shop. This differs to a degree in the rest of Europe. Twenty five years ago, the go to retail outlet for the humble balloon was a toy shop, but ironically it got too complicated for the toy industry . Ranges grew like Topsy and I think they took the view that to do it properly took too much space. And they were probably right . Yet I still maintain that whilst a single sku of bog standard toy balloons ,may not return as much cash, it will take return far more % profit per square inch than nearly anything else in a toy store.

So what is the allure of this simple object ? It is not without its opponents. Over the years it has had confrontations with the farming lobby, and environmentalists. Even today many think that latex balloons are made of plastic. Clue in title, please err ‘….Latex. There are those that are Balloon Phobic. I have encountered customers who would not step onto an exhibition stand as they are frightened of balloons. Not many, I hasten to add, I can only remember two . But there again I suppose I would not meet them all as they wouldn’t have come anywhere near me .

There are few that would walk into a room full of balloons, and not raise a smile. After a short while that same person, child or adult, would defer to childhood, and want to play with them, even if it is a sophisticated decoration. Maybe because they float or have a life of their own they subconsciously imbue a feeling hope, happiness and maybe even a touch of freedom. I have a sneaky feeling this is a peculiarly UK thing (and North America) . I am not sure this has translated to such a degree into mainland Europe, though I don’t see why it wont. Balloonwise , we are ahead of the game. A customer of mine (who is very close to the action on this one ) said he saw this coming sometime ago. He saw a movement to people playing (in a craft way) but suspected it would take another couple years to go mainstream. In his opinion , Covid has only hastened the timeline.

A toy it may no longer just be. Its development into adulthood has only just fortified its resilience and maintained its humility .

Would you Buy that Doggie Sitting in the Window?

Is this an example of a retail miracle or just rubbish merchandising ?

A very crude bastardisation of the 1952 Novelty song How much is that doggie in the Window ? Sung by Patti Page.

First it was toilet rolls and pasta, now the panic buying has moved onto Bikes and Puppies. In a few months time I can foresee loads of bikes on eBay, hopefully not puppies but there are already signs of profiteering. That, however, is not what this is all about.

As I was queuing to go into the bank (as one does at the time writing) , it was a source of inspiration whilst looking in the window of a locked down independent card shop. Or rather, it wasn’t, as what I saw made me think why would you go into this store ? Yes the store was closed but centre point of the window display (I hesitate to describe it as a window display) was a child’s plush toy dog. The product did not tie in with anything else in store , it looked grubby and as any dog looks in any window, very sad.

There are stores of all shapes and sizes littering retail landscapes, that are, if not full, then stocking a load of product that really should not be there. It does not stop with retail stores as it is true of wholesalers, distributors, importers and manufacturers.

Apple created product that nobody needed, and most experts suggested nobody would (or at least few would ) buy. What Apple managed to do was to create desire and then developed need. There are very few parallels. Therefore distribution channels in all markets should be a lot more ruthless in their ranging . I am not talking here about only having best sellers . If product has a market or serves a purpose, no matter how small, it is not a rational for deleting it. There is the 80/20 rule. This states that you take 80% of your cash from 20% of your range. This does not, however, you dump 80% of your product range. The function of less popular 80% is to enhance and attract the buyer.

It is the product that serves no purpose, has no market value and quite simply has a negative impact upon your business, it should go. Within our industry (Party Market) much revenue is generated by Licensed product eg Disney Characters, Marvel Comics etc. When a successful movie is launched there is often a huge peak for the main character ( Frozen Princess product for example). However that can be very short lived. In the case of Frozen, when the next film came out the consumer only wanted the new designs. The old design becomes dead stock overnight. Now, to be honest, this is a really tough topic because you never really now when ‘The shows over‘ so to speak. That dead stock can drain any profit made when it was hot. Moreover, it is more easily identifiable by the consumer as dead stock.

Certain retailers are more exposed to this issue than others. It is rarely an issue with any grocery outlet as most of the time their stock is limited by sell by dates. Yet they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Old stock whether defined by its age, fashion , poor sales history or just plain rubbish product does nothing to help a retail store. It has to be taken out of the business and a basket with a hastily printed sheet saying must be cleared, everything 50p is neither a good look nor an effective process.

At a time when we could go into shops, all of us will have experienced that moment when you are thinking what, on earth, is that doing in this shop? or how long has that been here ?

I have just had conversations with a customer , who having been in their current location for three decades has cleared all the stock out of the store and decided that when it can be reopened , everything will be fresh and new . A glimmer of hope , but only a glimmer. I am concerned a lot more will rely on old stock (because of financial constraints), fear of the unknown, or pure and simply going back to their old ways.

A word of caution. If you are in the process of restocking and your supply chain offers the once in a lifetime super deal on certain products. Just ask the question Why? Is it, perhaps, from their metaphorical must be cleared, everything 50p basket ?

In the current climate it is so important . The consumer will not bother going into unattractive stores and they will not be interested in looking at rubbish stock, not that they ever were. But now is the perfect time to look at what you have (and don’t have) and ask yourself

Would I buy that doggie sitting in my window ?