Waldeaux | Christmas Eve Morning
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Christmas Eve Morning

There’s been a great deal of talk about productivity recently in the media, and it suits this government to have it in the public eye because it provides them with a justification for ramping up the pressure on people whose incomes cannot sustain them. I have long held views on productivity and they tend to be more pertinent at this time of year. Christmas parties seem endless from November onwards. It seems that as soon as the clocks go back and Hallowe’en has gone, the focus of everything is on this most Christian of festivals, when actually the Christian count has been falling throughout my agnostic life, and that’s really quite a long time. It is no longer about religion. It’s mainly about getting wasted.

In 1997 I travelled on business to Copenhagen two Fridays before Christmas, when unbeknown to me the tradition for Danes is to eat herring and drink Schnapps. All day. Unless of course that was a lie, but it did seem to hold true because I arrived at my distributor’s office at 8:30 in the morning to be presented with a glass of potent homemade punch and some fish. By the time I took my flight home I was utterly pissed. I must have been because it is the one Friday home travelling in Europe where delays have not bothered me. The following Monday the Danes were back at work, until Christmas Eve, and after that they resumed life as we know it two days after Christmas.

Around the same time in a different year I was having a conversation about Christmas with the colourfully named Norbert van der Nap somewhere near Amersfoort in Holland. He said that they took Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, then it was back to work. At the time I felt that was a bit Spartan. But then you go around Europe and North America, and find that in the places where Christmas is celebrated Britain seems to indulge the most. I mean, when does your office party take place?

Things may be changing in these increasingly austere times, as workers take whatever work they can get, social and unsocial hours, short and long shifts, night shifts and day shifts, to earn what they can to give their children the nicest possible Christmas, while the voracious corporate beasts rake it in with wringing hands. But it isn’t too long ago that the Christmas slow down would actually start in mid-November, when even those in work seemed incapable of being productive following yet another night out in anticipation of this largely forgotten religious festival.

Add to that the fact that traditionally, our construction industry doesn’t kick into gear until the second week of January, and “Houston we have a problem”, because it means that from mid-November to mid-January the UK has not been working anywhere near full capacity. Do the Maths. For two out of Twelve months – that’s 16.67% of working time – we have been underperforming as a nation for many years, while more sensible parts of the world are just getting on with life as normal. It puts us at a huge disadvantage.

In March 2019 the nation will take its leap into the dark, and by that time we will all have little choice but to raise our game. Globalisation has made competition more fierce and frenetic than ever, so if the ‘Great’ is to return to Great Britain (oh, and Northern Ireland which of course the very word Brexit excludes – no surprises there then), albeit that the reputation of greatness was built on conquest and the acquisition of the resources of other nations (yeah I know they called it trade, but that included the slave trade remember?), then we really do have to become more productive in the time we are at our work.

“But that’s meat and drink to the employment bullies” you might say, and yes it could be, unless we start doing things better, but let’s also do them kinder. I remember back in the mid-1970s the Liberal MP Glynn Pardoe daring to share a vision of a future where we would all have more leisure time. From memory he talked about a three day weekend and therefore a four day working week without a reduction in salary but with an improvement in productivity. Well it sounded good at the time, but now we are faced with unemployment, under-employment, and an almost non-existent manufacturing sector his Utopian dream seems even farther away. There has to be a better way to live our lives though, and that would be my wish for 2018 and the years that follow.

So that’s what I was thinking about as I took Ozzy for his early walk today. I love getting out early on a holiday morning, especially on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. This year the country seems confused by the fact that Christmas Day is a Monday. I know I am. So this morning as I took my Christmas Eve walk I was surprised at how quiet it was. There was an aeroplane overhead which I might not have heard on Christmas morning, otherwise no cars, no people, just a stray Staffy and the sounds of the birds waking up and a breeze rustling the remaining leaves on the trees.

Have a lovely Christmas and here’s to a better year in 2018.

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