Theirs not to reason why, theirs just to do and die

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

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred – The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred Lord Tennyson,

Darkness in The Moodie Davitt Interim Lockdown Bureau.

As usual the still hours of the morning are the worst. Darkness on the edge of town. Springsteen. Waking up, pitch black outside, mind racing. The world turned upside down. A world gone wrong. Dylan.

Has all this really happened over the course of three months since we first wrote the word ‘coronavirus’ on our website? Our industry, our lives, our world transformed. Like many of you, I find consolation in whatever control one can impose. In my case it’s putting on the coffee in the morning, listening to that familiar splutter as it brews and smelling those rich, reassuring aromas. All the while getting down to work in the wee small hours, posting the latest updates on the global situation, exploring the statistics for particular take-outs relating to travel retail.

The statistics from China – proffered daily by an excellent service from the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China – offer much encouragement, albeit laced with some concern. It’s 11 days since a single case was reported in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province and the original epicentre of the COVID-10 outbreak. But over the last three days, imported cases have averaged just under 100.

In South Korea it’s a similar tale of several steps forward, one step back. Today just 27 new cases (only 25 yesterday, the lowest since 20 February) but seven of them were identified by airport screening. It’s clear that while certain individual countries have performed wonders in curbing ‘home-grown’ cases, they all wary of and vulnerable to a ‘second wave’ from within or (more likely) from outside.

China, though, does give me real cause for optimism. The excellent WWD and its sister title The Robb Report both dedicated front-page coverage to Hermès having generated sales of US$2.7 million on the first day of its reopening in Guangzhou at the weekend.

Yesterday also saw the opening of two new offshore duty free shops on Hainan Island, serviced by China Duty Free Group. Earlier this month we reported that the CDF Mall was already trading at 80% of last year’s record levels. Given no second wave, it is likely to soar past them by the time the all-important May holidays arrive.

And then, as day breaks and the birds in the trees outside my window start to tweet their morning arias, I look at the global situation. Nearly 2 million COVID-19 cases; almost 120,000 deaths. Then there is the brutal economic toll, particularly in the travel sector.

I spoke to one independent travel retailer last week who over several decades has crafted an outstanding business, built on fine principles of passion, partnership, innovation and almost boundless energy, who told me how he had been forced to close down dozens of stores – his entire network, in fact. His business, he said in a mixture of wryness and sadness, had been “shredded by what the universe has decided we all needed. A pandemic. A jolt to the way we had allowed ourselves to live”.

It is all that and more. But we must take our example from the east (each day the figures from Greater China and the example of governments such as those in Singapore and Sri Lanka lift my spirits) and never again repeat our folly in the west. The President of the United States last night gave a televised performance more befitting of the madman Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, in which Queeg’s subordinates, worried about their leader’s deteriorating mental condition, take control of the ship.

A sobering tale of a US leader gone mad

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is slowly recovering from a life and death struggle with the disease he and his cohorts had treated with appalling casualness until weeks ago. The population is rightly sympathetic to him today but will be less forgiving in the future.

History will judge the calls these men made, and Johnson’s approach might well one day be compared to those of other British leaders, Winston Churchill’s World War I military debacle – Gallipoli; Lord Cardigan’s Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. Overstatement? Try telling that to the thousands of bereaved in Britain.


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