Breakfast with the birds at Chez Moodie

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Like many immigrants, even long-term ones (since 1987) like me, I have never really felt a strong sense of belonging in my adopted country. To some extent one’s heart always remains somewhere else, no matter how much you like the people, the places, and your profession in your brave new world.

That all changed for me last Thursday. The moment came (precisely) at 20:00 BST on Thursday, as people from households across the UK stood variously on their doorsteps and balconies, in their gardens, or inside their upstairs rooms with the windows open, and applauded the efforts of the National Health Service (NHS) and care workers in treating those affected by Covid-19. The initiative, mirroring similar expressions of public sentiment in Europe, was called Clap for our Carers

I wandered onto the street (well away from any neighbours) and joined what started with the stutter of a few claps and then built to a crescendo of applause, chants (“NHS…NHS… NHS”) and beating on pots and pans. I saw neighbours from just a few doors away whom I have never met, let alone talked to. Everyone waved to each other, smiled. It was moving and simultaneously liberating. It was also unifying. A nation in self-isolation, suddenly let out (almost) to show that we are all in this together and all supporting the medical community with the unenviable – make that, downright dangerous – task of protecting us.

Image: Sky News

Many of us in travel retail feel a similar isolation (physical at least) from our friends and colleagues in the sector. So many of us around the world working from home; so many whose businesses are temporarily closed down. Some of us, and I can speak personally, whose businesses are imperilled.

Hello Colm…

Breaking down that isolation, staring this disease in the face, is important. I’ve got, as they say, ‘previous’ in that sense. I always saw my stomach cancer in 2010 and 2011 as a bully that had to be stood up to, even when I could barely stand up physically. Reaffirming the sense of global community that I believe the travel retail sector represents is important right now. That’s why we’ve organised our own ‘Clap for our Carers – Travel Retail’ initiative tomorrow (Tuesday). I hope you’ll take a moment to join us, wherever you happen to be.

Click here for details of the 30-second ‘Clap for our Carers – Travel Retail ’ global initiative on Tuesday 31 March (#ClapforourCarersTravelRetail)

My team has a special reason to participate. We’re doing it at noon, UK time, to applaud the Spanish health workers who fought so hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to save the life of Ramon Revilla, the beloved father of our Publisher Irene Revilla last week.

Irene is stranded here in London, unable to console her mother or even to be with her sister – also in self-isolation elsewhere in the UK. Irene’s long-term partner is similarly confined in Italy, having broken his leg on his last visit home and subsequently unable to return due to the crisis raging there. Tomorrow is our way of saying goodbye to Ramon and giving Irene the hug we cannot physically give her.

Ramon (Rest in Peace) and his wife Raquel
Like father, like daughter: Our Irene

Clap for Carers took place last Thursday evening. Now, as I write in the early hours of the following Monday morning, it feels like the world has changed even in that time. When I did my daily report on the daily COVID-19 case count last Thursday, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University, the global total was 472,109. This morning it was 723,328, a staggering +53% jump. A single city, New York, now rates high on the table of deaths suffered.

I have many friends in New York. So far they are all safe. One, a family man (and ex-duty free executive) rendered jobless by the mass shutdown of the hospitality industry, is going to work for Amazon rather than take a government handout, figuring the money is needed more by others. You are the man Steve. Like all of you, I fear for my friends, my family and, whisper it softly, myself. In the wee dark hours of the night when I now constantly wake, those concerns mount. Always, simply always, I combat them by getting up, brewing some strong coffee and reasserting what passes as control by just doing my job.

The routine is now familiar. Check the latest figures from the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China. Update my spreadsheet with the latest case and death numbers both countrywide and in Hubei province, home to the outbreak’s original epicentre of Wuhan. Assess the trend, attempt to read it through a travel retail lens. Sometimes that seems inappropriate given that we are talking serious illness and death but it is the job that is required. The travel sector will recover and with it, so in time will our sector. It is vital to identify, and actually anticipate the green shoots.

Next up is South Korea, with my numbers coming from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like the Chinese statistics, these are being closely monitored by the travel retail community, notably the beauty sector. If South Korea can continue its impressive efforts to curb the disease then a relatively near-term acceleration of the daigou business, in particular, is likely. My view is that intra-China travel retail (i.e. Hainan offshore duty free and domestic airport stores) will lead any recovery, followed by highly selective intra-Asia travel.

Back to my earlier theme of underlining our sense of a global travel retail community. Over the past couple of days we’ve unveiled another couple of initiatives which also support that premise. The first is ‘Virtual Wine O’Clock’, building on an event we held in Cannes last year which championed the wine sector. The sequel, as the name suggests, is virtual and we’ve got people joining us from all over the world at 6pm CET (only 5pm here but heck, why not?). The only rules are ‘No selling’ and you have to have a glass of something nice to hand. I hope you’ll join us.

Wine probably played a prominent role in my next initiative. As I was working late into the evening about 12 days ago, I thought of all my friends in travel retail and aviation and in all walks of life, battling as best they can through this terrible crisis. I tried to write a song about it. Wrote some words, sang them into my digital recorder that is normally reserved for conventional purposes and sent them to a friend in the business called Jeff Orson. Jeff works for PMA Canada  and besides a love of music we have something else in common. We both beat that bully I spoke about earlier. Jeff had colon cancer six years ago, stared it down and the bully blinked first.

Through that experience, Jeff rediscovered song writing. Penned a few songs and then a few more. Realised he was pretty good. Real good in fact. And others began to realise it too. I call him the ‘travel retail troubador’ for he now plays gigs on the road wherever he iswith the day job and has recorded several great songs (search Jeff Orson on YouTube). In his polite way, Jeff told me that my song wouldn’t quite make it (something to do with the bad tune, hopeless lyrics, and atrocious voice – otherwise it was quite good I thought) but that he would try to do something with the concept.

Eleven days later, that ‘something’ is a song called ‘Pray’, which he wrote and recorded and which we have jointly released as a fundraiser for the UN COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. It’s a powerful, hugely moving and ultimately uplifting song. I now start each day with it.

There’s something that’s goin’ round, that’s shutting our borders down
It’s a bad time for our sick and our old
CNN’s nightly lullaby, tells of hundreds more that’ve died
I shut off the TV and think all alone, how long can this go on?

You can watch Jeff’s recording via the YouTube link below but I urge you to buy it via download from Bandcamp (minimum spend of C$1 but you can donate as much as you like – King Power Group’s Sunil Tuli paid C$100) by clicking on this safe link – –or gift it (you can leave a personalised message) to someone you care about who you might not see for a while. For the full story and Podcast interview with Jeff Orson, please click here

It’s daybreak, and my friendly finches, sparrows, starlings and (best of all) robin redbreasts have arrived for breakfast at the feeders outside my window. The other day a woodpecker came to dine. And then a green parrot. Word must be getting around. As with me, the only choice of restaurant around these parts for now is Chez Moodie.

Breakfast at Moodie’s
Going green in west London
Look closely, it’s Woody Woodpecker

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