About four years ago, out of the blue, I received a call from the Jeremy Vine Radio 2 programme. For some reason they wanted to ask how the news of the Corus steelworks closing was going to affect business. I’m not clear why they picked on me but it might have been because they also rang us up when they heard about one of our staff walking 14 miles to work through the snow, realised I lived and worked in the North East and that I could talk without taking a breath.
After initial conversations with a researcher and while I was waiting for them to phone back, I wondered what I was going to say. “We’re all doomed” came to mind or “Someone’s got to do something” which always seems to be the cry of the drowning man. Maybe I could rant about the government, the opposition or all self-serving politicians in general. Then there’s always the refuge of the independantalists and I could blame it all on Europe or possibly, even, the rest of the world (I’m not paranoid but they are all out to get us).
Bolstered by caffeine and raring to go, the phone rang on cue and I was asked a question by Jeremy who then, to my surprise, just seemed to shut up and let me talk. And all my well-rehearsed stuff just disappeared. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten it. I just changed my mind. I felt I just had to “talk up” the North East. Here I was, in front of a national audience, with the opportunity to tell everyone what a great place our region is in which to live, work and visit. And maybe get a few extra restaurant bookings as a bonus.
Because in reality, steel jobs in Teesside don’t have a direct impact on the level of trade in businesses such as ours. We will have some customers who work there, or are related to someone who works there, or who work for someone who supplies them. But the thing that affects us the most, as I learnt during the foot and mouth outbreak, is that when things go wrong in one sector of the community, everybody’s made to feel down. Bad news is a good news story and spreads a bad mood like wildfire. You can’t blame the media because we’re all to blame. Hands up anybody who hasn’t had the urge, at least once in their life, to be the bearer of some major bad news they’ve just heard. We all like a bit of drama and good news just doesn’t seem to have as much as bad.
And the problem with restaurants is that no one actually absolutely has to go out for a meal. We have to get fuel for our cars. We have to buy food to eat to keep alive but eating out in restaurants is not a total necessity – more’s the pity.
But when we feel good, that’s when we book that extra little luxury in our lives. We start planning for our holidays, maybe buying a few extra clothes and, if I’m lucky, deciding to go out for meals. If only the region’s football teams were always at the top of their respective leagues, I’d be able to retire in a few years, such is the effect their results have on our mood and thus collective economic activity.
So it’s important that, despite the bad stories – and there will always be bad stories – we remember the other side: spring is coming, Newcastle United have won quite a few matches and we don’t live in the South East.
Who’s for dinner anyone?
Previously published in The Northern Echo