Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slowly and fades away – Time passes slowly, Bob Dylan
You know you’ve been away from home too long when your first granddaughter that you last saw when she was two weeks old is now reading your Blog…
Well, perhaps just gazing at it. But it seems an eternity since I departed British shores for Hong Kong back in late July. In fact, just four months have passed but thanks to this wretched pandemic it seems like 40.
As I write this Blog, 12 floors below my Interim Hung Hom Bureau, a couple are getting married in the hotel grounds, a scene that plays itself out several days a week here. The restricted number of guests all wear masks, though at least the happy couples are spared the ignominy of “You may lift her mask and kiss the bride.” The constant repeats make my life feel like Groundhog Day, me cast as Punxsutawney Phil (Bill Murray) living out the same scene every day.
I’ll have to live it out a while longer too, given that international travel is pretty much out of the question for now and the much-touted Air Travel Bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore – punctured by the arrival of COVID’s ‘Fourth Wave’ here – is unlikely to be reinflated until well into 2021.
Outside Hainan in China and Jeju in South Korea, the travel retail world remains deeply troubled and every week brings news of further job cuts and company closures. One of my close contacts, a top-class professional working in Europe, advised me this week that his role had been eliminated, a sad and wearyingly familiar refrain of past months. My LinkedIn network is now heavily punctuated with that now familiar white out of green hashtag, ‘#Open to work’. But that work is in pitifully short supply. When are those vaccines due again?
On Friday we reported that UK travel retail supply specialist Premier Portfolio International is to cease trading at the end of 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic after 21 years’ trading. Owners and directors Kevin Walsh and Andrew Webster said: “The [COVID-19] pandemic has hit the business really hard and, as a result, the board has decided that it is the right time to close down given the trading challenges we have faced and continue to face.”
Kevin and Andrew are two of the truly good guys of our industry, building a start-up business from the proceeds of car boot sales to create a two-times Frontier Award-winning enterprise. Their most familiar product, the Fun Plane, sold over 5 million pieces. Premier Portfolio is a two-decade success story, a testament to values of hard work, integrity and relationships. And then along came COVID-19.
“We have been haemorrhaging money and all we could do is just keep hanging on and wait for the inevitable, six, eight or ten months down the line,” Andrew told me. “Whereas with this… we are leaving in a structured and proper manner.”
You certainly are Andrew and Kevin. And I, like so many, will miss your irrepressible spirit and optimism.
Creating and sustaining your own business is a journey like no other in life. Those who have never done it will never truly appreciate the relentless pressures, the swooping rollercoaster mix of excitement, fear and worry. The low, sleepless moments in the middle of the night, the highs of a deal clinched or a job well done. For many (most, in fact, even according to pre-COVID statistics) that ride ends badly.
The pandemic has seen the casualty toll skyrocket and countless fine enterprises brought down for reasons entirely beyond their control. For now, simply staying on the board of play amounts to business success, in the hope that the better, vaccine-driven days lie on a near and not distant horizon.
Until that horizon is reached, time will continue to pass slowly and then fade away. By the time I next see my granddaughter she really may be reading my Blog.