Part 1: The world from January to June
Over the last 12 months, we may have inadvertently given you the impression that the world is a logical place – and that it will only get more logical as increasing numbers of decisions are taken by robots and artificial intelligence. If only that were the case… Sadly people seem to have an infinite capacity for getting it wrong. So in this last article before Christmas we take a light-hearted look back at the first half of 2017: part 2 will follow next Friday.
January always brings us the World Economic Forum: the annual gathering of the great and the good at Davos in Switzerland. This meeting of politicians, business leaders and economists – sprinkled with a dash of celebrity – is supposed to chart a course for the world economy. In 2016 delegates listened to Leonardo di Caprio rail against the excesses of corporate greed and the need to help the poor – and then went off to reflect on his speech over £290 bottles of Chateau Cheval Blanc.
No such greed was reported this year – although one US TV reporter did complain that the price of a Davos hot dog had now reached $40 (£30). Clearly, he isn’t among the world’s super-rich who will have been cheered by news that sales of that ‘must have,’ the super-yacht, are back to pre-financial crisis levels. Just to give you something to aim at in 2018, a super-yacht that is 100 metres long with a top speed of 25 knots and 50 crew will cost $275m – plus a $1m a year on maintenance and $1.4m on salaries for the crew.
If you cannot quite manage that, maybe the answer is to take advantage of McDonald’s all day breakfast. The company launched this magnificent idea in the last quarter of 2016 as part of a grand plan to revitalise the business and draw new people in. Sadly the all-day breakfast has turned out to be a fine example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Rather than draw new people into the chain, existing customers have simply switched from burgers to breakfast, meaning that when figures were reported in January fourth-quarter revenue for McDonald’s had actually fallen by 1.3%.
So there was no ticket to Davos and no super-yacht for the vice-president in charge of the Bacon and Egg McMuffin®…
February was notable for two economic and production crises which shook the Western world to its foundations.
In the United States, there was a shortage of bacon. In a country where a stack of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup is a fundamental start to the day, this was nothing short of a calamity. Online panic set in after US Department of Agriculture data showed reserves of frozen pork belly – from which bacon is cut – to be at a record low. The industry was quick to deny that supplies were in danger of running out, but the headline writers were having none of it. Aporkalypse Now screamed one newspaper.
— Joseph La Rue (@Joseph_La_Rue) February 1, 2017
Hey, Twitter, when are we taking to the streets to do something about this bacon shortage????
— Niri (@Nirikins) February 1, 2017
Meanwhile, the UK was reeling from a shortage of lettuce. Supermarkets were forced to ration iceberg lettuce – and broccoli – due to adverse weather conditions in Spain. Purchases were limited to three iceberg lettuce per customer. Inevitably prices rocketed, with one supermarket increasing the price of a lettuce from 42p to £1.19 – leaving UK millennials with a real problem. Should they switch out of Bitcoin and buy lettuce instead?
March was simply an outstanding month for – well, if not madness, the downright quirkiness that makes the world go round.
We all know what a young man’s thoughts turn to in Spring, but the thoughts of middle-aged Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United (for now) and Sports Direct, turned to lingerie. He bought the bankrupt underwear chain Agent Provocateur (I know you want a link, but there might be people in the House of Commons reading this article.) Given Mr Ashley’s penchant for publicity, the Newcastle players must be hoping the rumoured takeover of the club goes through before the Chairman has a chance to decide on next season’s strip…
Then there was the Indian washing machine introduced by Panasonic, which now comes with a special ‘curry’ button following customer complaints that they couldn’t get the stains off their clothes. Parents worldwide have written to Panasonic suggesting buttons labelled, ‘grass,’ ‘mud’ and ‘tomato sauce.’
…And finally in March off to Beijing where a public park introduced face recognition technology to ration loo roll. Visitors to the park were apparently tearing off extra loo roll and taking it home with them. The authorities acted swiftly and brought in the facial recognition software which now dispenses a fixed length of loo roll. The park is called the ‘Temple of Heaven.’ Let’s hope no-one in the Temple of Heaven had eaten a curry…
The Association of British Insurers got April off to a good start with the news that an anorexic python had swallowed £790 in vet’s bills. This was in their annual report, which revealed that the average cost of a claim on your pet insurance is now £757 – something of a shock for those of us that are looking forward to spending the holiday watching re-runs of James Herriot and thought a vet’s bill was seventeen shillings and sixpence.
Costing rather more than a trip to the vets was a trip from Taunton to Trowbridge. The towns are just 64 miles apart but that didn’t stop Great Western Rail offering a ticket for £10,000 on its website. The company blamed an ‘anomaly.’ Their own fault for hiring the bloke who’d been in charge of McDonald’s all day breakfast…
But pride of place in April went to a 24-carat gold Darth Vader mask made by Japanese jeweller Ginza Tanaka. Sadly if your idea of fun this Christmas was buying it for a cool £1.1m and endlessly repeating ‘Luke, I am your father’ you’re too late. It was sold on Star Wars Day (May the fourth, obviously).
What else could you do with your £1.1m instead? Assuming the anomaly has not been corrected you could travel between Taunton and Trowbridge 110 times, or – as Master Yoda would say – take 1,392 pythons to the vet you could…
Nothing happened. Really. For once the world was an entirely logical place. Apart from in the UK, where pollsters and experts alike agreed that Theresa May would comfortably win the General Election, probably with a majority of between 80 and 100. What could possibly go wrong?
First, it was bacon, then lettuce. June brought the truly terrifying news that global beer sales are drying up. The International Wine and Spirits Record reported that worldwide beer sales were down by 1.8% in 2016, with overall alcohol consumption down by 1.3%. This marks a significant acceleration in the average fall of 0.3% seen over the last five years: the only bright spot on the horizon was the continuation of the gin revival. Worldwide sales of the iconic British drink rose 3.7% in 2016 and judging by my wife’s Christmas list 2017 looks set to be another bumper year.
Whatever your favourite tipple, what better to have with it than a new snack which is taking California by storm and has been hailed by Los Angeles lifestyle website ‘Hello Giggles’ as ‘genius.’ West coast supermarket Trader Joe’s has been marketing the ‘Puff Dog’ – a beef sausage wrapped in puff pastry. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the land of the free and the home of cutting-edge technology had finally invented the sausage roll. They are 90p at Gregg’s: I wonder what one costs in Davos…
With that let me – on behalf of everyone at CL News – wish you a very happy Christmas. Part 2 of this article – featuring the security robot that drowned itself – will be published a week today.