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Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play – Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song
I start this Blog at 19.40 UK time, 35,266 feet above the North Sea, an hour or so out of London and precisely 6,012 miles from Hong Kong.
I decided to fly as, despite all my efforts, Nestlé International Travel Retail and World Duty Free wouldn’t let me take the Heathrow bus.
I’m spending a couple of weeks in Asia, including stops in Hong Kong, Singapore (for the TFWA Asia Pacific show and our own Duty Calls Charity Ball) and Beijing.
I apologise for the drying up of the Blog over the past week. When it becomes this arid you just know that I’m really busy.
Over the past week or two, we’ve been putting together our second-biggest magazine (for print and online) of the year. It’s a monster (hopefully a gentle, learned and attractive one) of well over 300 pages.
People who look at our voice and our impact tend to think we are a big publishing house, pumping out articles written by a large team of journalists based around the globe. They would be surprised by the reality.
Most of the magazine I referred to was written by Dermot Davitt and me, and all of it in a frighteningly short time frame. Over the three days leading up to our Monday night final deadline, I calculate that I wrote nine features, hopefully all error-free and of high quality. Then there’s the picture selection, the captioning, the graphics, the creation of statistical tables, the proofreading. Dermot’s workload was no less daunting. And he also had to edit the whole shebang. And all of this while still managing the constant output of our online offering, ‘the website that never sleeps’ as I famously once dubbed it, a sobriquet that also ensured its creator gets little sleep either.
Where is all this leading? Down the long, reluctant, inevitable path of age, I suppose, is the answer. Yesterday I had to take a train from our HQ in Brentford to central London in order to pick up a new passport. Within seconds of taking my seat, I fell asleep. This time I did not awake 35,000 feet above Novosibirsk, but at Vauxhall Station in central London – not my planned stop but close enough to the passport office that it didn’t matter.
It was the first time I have alighted from Vauxhall Station in 24 years. The place has changed a lot yet it still felt familiar. For this is where my career in travel retail really started in the late 1980s. Just metres away from the station, two men called Vivian Raven and Julian Fox set up a small publishing house bearing their names – Raven Fox. Ably assisted by the leading journalist of the time, Doug Newhouse, they created a title called Duty-Free News International, DFNI to use its more familiar acronym. Those men gave me my start, my sector knowledge, and a figurative tonne of mentorship. Vivian has sadly passed on, but Julian and Doug (who later created Travel Retail Business, which he left in late 2017) are still going strong.
I was a journalistic pup back then. Fresh off the plane from New Zealand. Beguiled and bewildered in equal measure by this business they called duty free. Eager, green, ready to learn. Where did all the time go? 32 years in travel retail, 17 of them owning my own title, is a long old gig.
Unlike Leonard Cohen (rest in peace great master) my hair hasn’t turned grey. For even when I set off on this journey I had none to turn any hue. But if my ‘playing’ has always been on the journalistic rather than musical version of a keyboard, then yes I do ache – especially after marathon stints like the last few days, when sleep is a forgotten companion.
Later: I’m finishing this Blog from my apartment in Tung Chung, a ten-minute drive from Hong Kong International Airport. I love returning here; Hong Kong just seems to give you energy as soon as you step off the plane. I’m hoping for even more via my new très chic AYO device (handled by Hamburg-based Travel Retail Cooperation) which is designed to boost energy, improve sleep and help the wearer adjust easily to a new time zone. Well, I must be just about the perfect guinea pig as I could do with all three benefits. Let’s hope I can work out the instructions. Never my strength with technology. Jet lag or not, it’s onwards, time to stop aching and start playing.